Ask Larry: ​​Was I Misinformed By SSA?

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Social Security may be one of your largest assets. What and when you collect will make a huge difference to your lifetime benefits.

Today’s column addresses wrong information from SSA, filing after divorce, evaluating hearsay about COLAs, the availability of spousal benefits and the conversion of a disability benefit to a retirement benefit at FRA. Larry Kotlikoff is the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, a company that markets Maximize My Social Security, a Social Security benefits calculator referred to in this post.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Ask Larry about Social Security:

Was I Misinformed By SSA?

Hi Larry, How can I get access to the same information the Social Security office people have? I read your book and just came from my appointment. I’ve been married and divorced twice. Each marriage lasted longer than 10 years. My second marriage ended 10 years ago. I am 63. My first ex-husband is 63 and my second ex-husband is 61. I was told by SSA that I cannot file for benefits on either of my ex-husband’s records until they file and that if I file today, I can only file on my own earnings.

I was also told by another representative that I can file today for my benefits and claim divorced spousal benefits from either of my former husbands. I reminded them my second ex-husband is only age 61 and I read that I had to wait until he turned 62 to file on his work record. They said I am over age 62 and that is all that matters. But there are discrepancies between your book and what SSA says. Which is correct? Thanks, Joanna

Hi Joanna, Both Social Security staff told you the wrong thing. You can file for an divorced spousal benefit on a divorced spouse’s work record provided you were a) married for 10 years, b) your ex is age 62, c) you have been divorced for 2 or more years or your ex has started his retirement benefit. In the case of your first ex, all the requirements are met. In the case of the second, they aren’t. In particular, the second ex needs to reach age 62 before you can collect a divorced spousal benefit on his record. You can switch to collecting on the second spouse’s work record once he reaches 62.

If you were 62 as of 1/1/2016, you can wait till 66 and collect just your divorced spousal benefit. Then, at 70, you can take your own retirement benefit and will get it instead if it exceeds your divorced spousal benefit. But if you were 62 as of 1/1/2016 and are between under 66 and file for your divorced spousal benefit, two bad things will happen. You’ll be forced to take your retirement benefit, but reduced because you are taking it before full retirement age and you’ll get an excess not a full divorced spousal benefit, which will also be reduced because you are taking it early. The excess divorced spousal benefit may be very small or zero.

If you were younger than 62 on 1/1/2016, whenever you take your divorced spousal benefit, whether from ex 1 or ex 2, you’ll be forced to take your retirement benefit and only get your excess divorced spousal benefit.

I recommend running yourself through my my company’s program or…

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