Ask Larry: Will A Social Security Retirement Benefit Now Reduce A Spousal Benefit Later?

Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about how early retirement benefits can affect later spousal benefits, whether there are lifetime limits for disabled children and about mitigating the effects of years with no income on benefit rates. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

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

Will A Social Security Retirement Benefit Now Reduce A Spousal Benefit Later?

Hi Larry, I’ll be 66 soon and plan to file for retirement benefits later at my FRA. My wife will be 64 soon and her PIA is far below 50% of my PIA. If she files early for her retirement benefit now and switches to a spousal benefit when I file, will that spousal benefit be lower than if she does not file for her own benefit and simply waits to file for her spousal benefit? Thanks, Stephen

Hi Stephen, Your wife can’t draw her retirement benefits and later “switch” to drawing spousal benefits. Your wife could claim her retirement benefits now at a reduced rate, but she’ll then be stuck with that reduction for as long as both of you are living. And if your wife claims her retirement benefits now, she’ll be forced to file for spousal benefits when you start drawing your retirement benefits. That means that her spousal rate would also be reduced for age if you apply for your benefits before your wife reaches her full retirement age (FRA).

You and your wife may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to ensure your household receives the highest lifetime benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Are There Any Limits That Could Adversely Affect My Son Later In Life?

Hi Larry, I just started receiving Social Security benefits and I have a child with disabilities who is now 13 and is permanently disabled. I read disability benefits for children but the article was unclear. If he qualifies at thirteen, are there limits that could affect him later in life? Are there downsides to taking this benefit? Thanks, Liz

Hi Liz, No, there is no lifetime limit on how much a person can be paid from Social Security. Since your child is only 13 now, he doesn’t need to be disabled to currently be eligible for child benefits based on your record. When he’s within six months of turning 18 though, he’ll need to apply for childhood disability benefits (CDBs formerly known as disabled adult child (DAC) benefits) in order for his child benefits to continue past 18. As long as your son qualifies for CDBs, those benefits can continue for as long as he lives. Best, Larry

Earnings Years From My Social Security Earnings History?

Hi Larry, I have zeros for several years in my earnings record. Is there a way to remove those zeros? Thanks, Evan

Hi Evan, Your Social Security earnings history will always display zeroes for any years in which you paid no Social Security taxes. You can’t voluntarily pay Social Security taxes in order to receive additional Social Security credits or to increase your benefit rate.

However, Social Security retirement benefit rates are based on an average of a person’s highest 35 years of Social Security covered wage-indexed earnings, so you can reduce or negate the negative effect that those zero earnings years will have on your benefit rate by working and paying Social Security taxes on your current and future earnings. Best, Larry

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