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Social Security Frequently Asked Questions

Social Security Frequently Asked Questions

May 07, 2024

A generation ago, it was common for retirees to receive guaranteed employer pensions and government-backed social security benefits. As guaranteed pensions, especially in the private sector, slowly disappear, employees become more responsible for their investment performance. As a result,  Social Security benefits now may be the only source of income that is constant and permanent. The major Social Security decisions are made at the beginning of the process.

Social security benefits represent a permanent income payment for life, backed by the U.S. government, that receives Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs). Another feature is the added life insurance protection a surviving spouse receives if the deceased spouse received or was entitled to a higher benefit amount. A critical planning item for Social Security is whether to wait to receive benefits, but analysis is required to determine the most efficient source of replacement income while you wait (if you retire first). 

Below is a list of questions I often receive through online inquiries. I've attempted to answer them or link a more detailed source or example.

What type of Social Security Benefits are Available?

Retirement Benefits
Disability Benefits
Spousal Benefits
Survivor Benefits
Ex-Spousal and Survivor Benefits
Dependent Benefits
Main Social Security Planning Page

Can I receive more than one benefit at the same time?
A person can be eligible for more than one type of benefit, but they will not receive separate payments. For example, a payment by a spouse can consist of the spouse’s retirement plus an additional spousal benefit, but it will be combined into one payment.

Early Filing

What is the minimum age to begin receiving Social Security Benefits?
It depends on the type of benefit. For example, at age sixty-two, a person qualifies to receive individual or spousal benefits. Survivor Benefits can be obtained at age 60 for surviving spouses or former spouses, and Disability benefits at age 18. Please remember that an early filing penalty will apply if benefits are received before Full Retirement Age (except for Disability).

If I return to work in 2024, will my Social Security Payments be reduced?
Maybe. It depends on your age and how much you earn. If you do not reach your Full Retirement Age (FRA) in 2024, the maximum amount of earned income allowed before a reduction of benefits is $22,320. If you reach your FRA in 2024, the amount of income allowed in the months before FRA is $59,320. Once your FRA is reached, benefits are not reduced regardless of your income.
See More On Earnings Cap Penalty

Can I voluntarily suspend my benefits?
If you have reached your full retirement age, you can suspend benefits no later than the month you turn 70. For example, a 67-year-old who has received payments since age 64 can suspend their benefits and receive the 8% delayed retirement credit to age 70.

How much more Social Security benefit can I receive if I wait past my Full Retirement Age until age 70?
Once you reach your FRA (age 67 for everyone born after 1959), you can increase your benefit by 8% annually (.067% per month) by delaying receipt until age 70. For instance, a monthly benefit of $2,500 at FRA (age 67) will increase by $200 ($2,500 x .08) each year up to age 70 ($3,100 monthly benefit). Note the interest is calculated using a simplified method (not compounded).
See More on Delayed Retirement Credits

Can I stop my Social Security and go back to work?
However, you can only do this if you've filed for your retirement benefits within the previous 12 months. At that time, you'll also have to repay everything you've earned from Social Security thus far, including any benefits paid to your spouse, children, or other beneficiaries.

Spousal Benefits 

If my spouse files for benefits, will my benefits be reduced?
No. Spousal benefits or ex-spousal benefits received will not impact the other spouse or ex-spouse’s retirement benefits. Divorced spouses do not need to know that each other may have filed for spousal benefits on each other.
See More on Spousal Benefits

How long must I be married to my ex-spouse to be eligible for spousal benefits?
You must have been married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years to be eligible for spousal benefits. You also must not have been married, and you must be at least 62 years old.
See More on Divorced Spousal Benefits

Can I be remarried and still receive spousal benefits from my ex-spouse?
No. You may be eligible for spousal benefits on your new husband’s record but not on your former spouse's record.

Can I receive spousal benefits and then switch to my retirement benefit later?
No. You will receive the highest benefit available to you when you file.

Can my spouse file for spousal benefits even though I have not begun receiving benefits yet?
No. You must be receiving benefits to have your spouse eligible to receive benefits. However, a divorced spouse who is otherwise eligible need not have to wait for their ex-spouse to begin receiving benefits.


Survivor Benefits

If my spouse dies, how old must I be to begin receiving Survivor Benefits?
You must be at least 60. Taking benefits before reaching your Full Retirement Age will involve a permanent reduction of your eligible survivor benefit. In addition, a penalty may apply if you earn income while you are receiving survivor benefits and you have not reached your FRA.
See More on Survivor Benefits

How much Survivor Benefits will I be eligible for if my spouse dies?
Survivor benefits are based on the amount the deceased spouse was receiving or entitled to receive at the time of their death – the surviving spouse “steps into the shoes” of the deceased. However, the earnings penalty and excess income penalty will apply to surviving spouses who have not reached their Full Retirement Age.

Can I begin receiving survivor benefits from my spouse and then switch to my retirement benefit amount?
Yes. Because survivor benefits are classified differently from retirement benefits, a surviving spouse can file for survivor benefits as early as age 60 (although discounted for early filing) and allow their retirement benefit to increase up to age 70. Once the eligible payment exceeds the survivor benefit (at FRA or later), the surviving spouse may switch to the higher payment.  

If I have been married twice and am now single, and one of my ex-spouses dies, can I apply for survivor benefits?
As long as you were married for at least ten years, you are eligible for survivor benefits on your deceased ex-spouse. If you have more than one ex-spouse that you were married to over ten years, then your benefits will be from the earnings record of the ex-spouse who would provide the largest benefit.

I am divorced. I was married for eight years. Am I eligible for survivor benefits on my ex-spouse if they predecease me?
No, sorry. Social Security is known for being strict on this requirement.


Dependent Benefits

When are dependent children eligible to receive Social Security Benefits?
When a parent receives Social Security retirement or disability benefits or dies, their child may also receive benefits. Under certain circumstances, a stepchild, adopted child, dependent grandchild, or step-grandchild may also qualify. To receive benefits, the child must be unmarried and younger than age 18.
See More on Dependent Benefits

Can a spouse (under 62) who cares for minor children receive retirement benefits from the retired spouse’s account?
Yes. As long as the younger spouse cares for a qualifying child. By a qualifying child, we mean a child who is under age 16 or who receives Social Security disability benefits.

I hope you found this useful. Please visit our website or call us at (925) 484-1671 or email us to ask questions or schedule a consultation.