Last week, I tried to answer as many questions as I could in the limited space I have. But I ran out of column before I ran out of queries. So this week, more relatively short and concise answers to reader’s questions.
Q: I am 61. I plan to wait until I am 70 before I start my Social Security. My wife is 66 and already getting her Social Security. My benefit will be twice as much as hers is. If I die before I reach age 70, what will she get?
A: It all depends on your age when you die. If you are 70 or older and getting Social Security when you die, she will start getting whatever amount you were getting, less her own benefit rate. If you die between 66 and 70 and assuming you hadn’t filed for Social Security yet, she will get your full retirement rate plus whatever “delayed retirement credits” you would have accumulated up to the month of your death. Those DRCs pay two-thirds of 1 percent for each month beyond age 66. For example, if you die on your 68th birthday, she’d get a widow’s rate of 116 percent, less her own retirement benefit. If you die before age 66, she will just get your full retirement rate, again, less her own benefit.
Q: I don’t understand Social Security retroactivity rules. When I applied for my benefits, I wasn’t offered any opportunity to get retroactive benefits. When my neighbor filed, he was able to get six months’ worth of retroactive payments. What gives?
A: What gives is that you must have been under 66 when you applied for your Social Security and your neighbor must have been over 66. The rules say retroactive benefits cannot be granted if they involve the payment of any reduced retirement benefits. Or to put that another way, they can’t be paid prior to age 66.
Q: Why is Social Security so complicated?
A: I once spent a whole column answering this question. I made the point that the basic Social Security rules are really quite simple. But the finer points of those rules can get messy because, well, life is messy. Some people want to retire at 62. So there are special rules for them. Some want to work until they drop dead. So there are special rules for them. Some retirees have small children at home. So there are special rules for them. Many people become disabled before reaching retirement age. So there are special rules for them. Some married couples have one working spouse. Others, two. So there are special rules for them. Other people get divorced and remarry. So there are special rules for them. Thousands of people worked at jobs not covered by Social Security. So there are special rules for them. You get my point. Social Security rules can be varied and convoluted because people’s lives can be varied and convoluted.
Q: Do you suggest filing a Social Security claim online or in person at my local Social Security office?
A: If you’ve got a relatively straightforward claim with no complications, I recommend filing your claim online. But if you’ve got one of those “varied and convoluted” situations I just discussed in the prior answer, then I think you should talk to a real human being by calling the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213. You can file your claim over the phone, or you could make an appointment to see someone at your local Social Security office.
Q: I am 68 years old and I am raising my grandson. His father is in prison and his mother is a junkie. Can he get Social Security on my record?
A: Probably not. Children can usually get benefits on grandma’s or grandpa’s Social Security account only if both parents are deceased or disabled — or if the grandparent has adopted the grandchild.
Q: I am about to turn 66 and sign up for my Social Security retirement benefit. I also get a widow’s benefit from the Texas Teacher’s Retirement System because my recently deceased husband was a teacher. Someone told me my Social Security will be reduced because of some offset. Is this true?
A: No, it’s not true. The offset you mentioned applies to people who worked at a job not covered by Social Security and get a pension from that job. But you did not work at such a job. Your husband did. So any Social Security benefits he might have been due would have been subject to an offset. But your Social Security benefit will NOT be offset. However, I suggest you talk to the people who run the Texas retirement system and ask them if your Social Security retirement check affects your widow’s benefit.
I am 72 years old. I am getting Social Security even though I am still working. But I have many physical problems and will probably have to quit my job. Can I sign up for Social Security disability?
A: No, you can’t. Social Security disability benefits are no longer payable after age 66. Or to put that another way, after age 66, a disability benefit would pay exactly the same amount as the retirement benefit you are already getting.