Social Security and You Margenau mug

I haven’t seen any demographic numbers on this issue, but if the questions I’m getting from golden years parents are any indication, then I think the number of senior citizens with young children at home is growing.

I’m not talking about older folks raising one or more of their grandkids. That’s an issue I’ve discussed many times in this column. In a nutshell, I can tell them that grandkids usually will not qualify for benefits on grandma’s or grandpa’s Social Security record unless both parents are deceased or disabled. Or unless the grandparents have adopted the children.

What I am discussing is people pushing Social Security age who have one or more minor children at home. And, of course, most of those inquiries are coming from men. I say that because of simple biology. It would be very rare for a woman in her 60s to have a child who is 18 years old or younger. (Eighteen is the usual cutoff age for children to qualify for Social Security dependent’s benefits.) So here are some examples of the questions I’ve been getting.

Q: I am about to turn 62. I was planning to wait until 66 to retire and sign up for Social Security. But a guy I work with told me I might be financially ahead to sign up for Social Security now because I have a two kids, ages 12 and 10, and he said they could get benefits on my account. My wife is 47. And that same person told me she could also get Social Security. Is all of that true?

A: It’s partially true. Assuming you stop working, you could apply for reduced retirement at age 62, and your kids would be due partial benefits on your account. For the time being, you can forget about your wife getting any Social Security on your account. Although the mother of a retiree’s minor children technically qualifies for benefits, there are two reasons why she won’t be due anything. One is if she is working. And the other reason has to do with rules that limit the amount of money that can be paid to a family with children getting Social Security benefits.

For example, let’s say your full retirement age benefit is $2,000 per month. At age 62, you’d be due 75 percent of that, or $1,500. Each of your kids is technically due a rate equal to 50 percent of your FRA benefit. In other words, each child is due $1,000. But the law that limits what a family on Social Security can get generally caps your total benefits at 150 percent of your FRA amount. That means the maximum you and your family can get would be $3,000 per month. You have to be paid your benefit first. Again, that is $1,500. That leaves another $1,500 to be paid to your kids, so they would get $750 each. If your wife was not working, she could file for what are called “young mother’s benefits.” But adding her to your record would merely split that remaining $1,500 three ways instead of two. In other words, she and the two kids would get $500 each. So there is no point in adding your wife to your Social Security account.

Q: I took my Social Security when I was 66 years old. I am now 68. My wife is about to turn 66. We have a 32-year-old son living at home who has been severely disabled since birth. He is getting benefits on my Social Security record. We are wondering this: Can my wife sign up for spousal benefits on my record and save her own until age 70 when she would get the bonus for delayed retirement?

A: Normally your wife could do that. (That is the “file and restrict” strategy that has been explained countless times in this column.) But because of the family maximum rules discussed in the previous answer, there would be no point in pursuing that strategy. Once again, I’ll use some numbers to explain.

Let’s say you are getting $2,500 per month. Your son would be getting half of that — $1,250. That means you are already being paid the 150 percent maximum family rate ($3,750) this is due on your Social Security account.

If your wife were to file for spousal benefits on your record, she would technically also be due $1,250 per month. But because you and your son are already being paid the maximum benefit, anything paid to her would simply come off of what your son is due. Therefore, your wife and son would simply split the $1,250 that is left over after your $2,500 retirement benefit is paid, meaning they would get $625 each. So there is no point in having her file for spousal benefits because you will end up with the same $3,750 in total family benefits.

Your wife can still delay signing up for her own Social Security until age 70 if she wants in order to get the delayed retirement bonus you mentioned. (She’d get an extra 32 percent tacked on to her monthly Social Security check.) It’s just that she won’t get anything on your record in the meantime.

Q: I took my Social Security at age 66. I have a 49-year-old wife who is a stay-at-home mom and a 15-year-old son. They both get benefits on my record. I was told my wife’s benefits will stop when my son turns 16. Why?

A: The law says a young mother’s benefits stop when her child turns 16. I’m sure the law assumes that once a child reaches that age, the government no longer needs to provide child care support to the mom. That’s the bad news for you.

But the good news is that because of those family maximum rules I’ve been explaining in this column, the money amount you get each month won’t change. Frankly, there really was no point in having your wife on your Social Security account in the first place because she and your son are simply splitting the benefit he normally would have received on his own. So when your son reaches age 16 and your wife comes off the beneficiary rolls, your son will simply get the full amount they were getting together.

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