Ask Larry: How Soon After I File Can My Wife File For Her Social Security Spousal Benefit?

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Today’s column addresses questions about the timing of spousal benefits and how restricted application differ from filing and suspending, when divorced spousal benefits can be available and options when disability benefits are discontinued. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.


How Soon After I File Can My Wife File For Her Social Security Spousal Benefit?

Hi Larry, I am turning 70 yrs this July and am ready to file for my Social Security retirement benefit. My wife will be turning 69 this summer as well and her plan is to file for her retirement benefit at age.

I don’t think I have this quite right so can you check me? I’ve heard from my neighbor that due to our ages, we qualify for the grandfathered approach of the old “file and suspend,” which he said is now called a “restricted application.” Is that correct or is he confused? I think I want to file a restricted application soon, so that my wife can file for spousal benefits on my record. Does that sound right or not so much?

As I understand it, she will be able to receive spousal benefits of 50% of my benefit for 13 months until her birthday in August 2022, when she turns 70 and will file for her own retirement benefit. I’m really confused by all of this and am not at all sure that I understand it right.

Can my wife file for spousal benefits at the same time I file for my retirement benefit or does she have to wait until I begin receiving my retirement benefits before she can file for her spousal benefits?

Her window for spousal benefits is only 13 months long, so I want to get her as much of the spousal benefits she is entitled to. Thanks, Glen

Hi Glen, first note that you’re conflating filing for and suspending a retirement benefit with the completely separate and mutually exclusive act of restricting an application to a spousal benefit only.

While only those born on or after 1/1/1954 can file a restricted application, e.g. for spousal benefits only, there is no limit on who can still suspend a retirement benefit at or after their full retirement age (FRA) once they’ve filed for it. But again, they are mutually exclusive: if you do one, you can’t do the other.

You and your could file your applications on the same day. She just couldn’t file her application any earlier than when you file yours. And just to be clear though, you don’t need to file a restricted application if you’ll be drawing your own Social Security retirement benefits. It’s your wife who’d want to file a restricted application if she wants to file for spousal benefits only.

The purpose of a restricted application is to limit the scope of an application to only one type of benefit. You wouldn’t need to do that because your own retirement benefit would apparently be the only type of benefit for which you’re eligible. Your wife, however, would need to restrict her application for spousal benefits to exclude her own retirement benefits from the scope of her application.

I should add, by the way, that I don’t have enough details about your and your wife’s benefit options to know if you’re choosing the best possible claiming strategy. You may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully analyze the options available to you and your wife so that you can be sure you’re choosing the best possible option. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry


What Is The Truth About When I Can Draw From My Ex-Husband’s Social Security?

Hi Larry, I am confused about when to take Social Security retirement benefits. My ex-husband is seven months younger than me and the Social Security agent said I can’t take my divorced spousal benefit until he is 66 and 4 months. is it possible for me to take early benefits on my record then switch to divorced spousal benefits on his record? Thanks, Gina

Hi Gina, Your ex-husband wouldn’t have to be full retirement age in order for you to qualify for divorced spousal benefits. A divorced spouse can potentially qualify for divorced spousal benefits as early as 62, provided that either a) their ex-spouse is drawing Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or b) their divorce from the ex-spouse occurred at least two years ago and their ex-spouse is at least age 62.

So if both you and your ex-spouse are at least 62, you may be eligible for divorced spousal benefits now assuming that your marriage lasted for at least 10 years and your divorce occurred at least two years ago, or if your ex is drawing benefits. However, assuming you were born after 1/1/1954, when you file for either divorced spousal benefits or your own Social Security retirement benefits, you’ll be deemed to be filing for both. In that case, you could only qualify for divorced spousal benefits if your divorced spousal rate is higher than your own retirement benefit rate.

If your ex-spouse hasn’t yet reached 62 or if your divorce occurred less than two years ago and if your husband isn’t yet drawing his benefits, then you could potentially file for your own retirement benefits as early as 62 and then claim divorced spousal benefits when and if you meet the requirements for those benefits in the future. Best, Larry


What Can I Do To Get My Disability Benefits Back?

Hi Larry, I’ve been on disability for 10 years and working part time. I received a bonus at work which caused me to go over the SGA threshold. So I was terminated from disability and my appeals were denied. What can i do to get my disability back? Thanks, Don

Hi Don, There are several different levels of appeal that can be pursued when a person wishes to dispute a Social Security determination. The first appeals step is called reconsideration. The second level of appeal is a the hearings level, and the third tier of appeals is an Appeals Council review. If your appeal is unsuccessful at all three of these levels, you could then file a lawsuit in the federal court system.

If you’ve already exhausted all of your appeal options or if you choose not to pursue any further appeals, then the only way that you could possibly resume receiving Social Security disability benefits is by filing a new application for benefits. If your new claim is disallowed, you would then be able to pursue the appeals process as referenced above. Best, Larry


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