Ask Larry: Is It True That I Can Collect My Retirement And My Survivor's Benefits?

Today’s column addresses questions about whether it’s possible to collect both a retirement benefit and a survivor’s benefit at the same time, whether benefits for disabled adult children depend on when the parent files and whether paying back SSA tax will increase benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

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


Is It True That I Can Collect My Retirement And My Survivor’s Benefits?

HI Larry, My husband passed in January of this year and I have been told by family that I can collect my current Social Security retirement along with my widow’s benefit that would be the same as what he was receiving. Is this correct information? What do I need to do to file for the both benefits if so? Thanks, Molly

Hi Molly, I’m sorry for your loss. It’s not true that you can collect both your own benefits and your survivor’s benefits, which would be equal to your husband’s retirement benefit, at the same time. If you apply for both survivor benefits and your own Social Security retirement benefits, you can only be paid up to the higher of the two benefit rates. You may though be able to file for one type of benefit initially and then switch to the other type of benefit at a later date when your rate would be higher.

MORE FOR YOU

Your best filing strategy depends on your current age and the comparative amounts of your and your husband’s benefit rates. You may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to analyze your options so that you can choose the best possible strategy for claiming your benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry


Is What The Social Security Representative Told Me About The Amount Of My Son’s Benefit Correct?

Hi Larry, I’m applying for my Social security now at 62, my son is disabled and I have talked to several people at the office and at the 800 number and they tell me it is based on when I apply for my Social Security retirement benefit, which will be at 62, and not my 66 and 10 months full retirement age. Is this correct? Thanks, Jennifer

Hi Jennifer, It sounds like you were either misinformed or there was some type of misunderstanding. The benefit rate for childhood disability benefits (CDBs, also known as disabled adult child (DAC) benefits) who’s eligible for benefits on the record of a living parent is calculated based on 50% of the parent’s primary insurance amount (PIA), not the parent’s monthly benefit rate. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).

In other words, even if you apply for your benefits at 62, your child could be paid up to 50% of your full retirement age rate. However, if you have a spouse or other children who are also eligible for benefits based on your record, then the actual rates payable to your eligible family members would be reduced due to the family maximum benefit (FMB) that can be claimed on a single record. Best, Larry


When I Pay Off My Back Social Security Taxes, Will My Social Security Benefits Increase?

HI Larry, I’m on an installment plan. When I pay off the $10.000 back Social Security taxes that I owe, will my Social Security benefits increase? Thanks, Ben

Hi Ben, I can’t give you a definitive answer. About the only way that paying past due Social Security taxes might increase your Social Security retirement benefit rate is if you reported self-employment earnings for past years, and if those earnings haven’t yet been considered when calculating your benefit rate.

Even then, your benefit rate would only increase if the newly reported earnings were high enough to replace a lower earnings year. Social Security retirement benefits are based on an average of a person’s highest 35 years of Social Security covered wage-indexed earnings, so additional years of earnings only increase a person’s benefit rate if they’re higher than one or more of the 35 years currently being used to calculate the person’s benefit rate. Best, Larry