When Social Security gives conflicting advice

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Q. I will be turning 66 this July 2019 (born in 1953) while my husband will not be turning 66 until July 2020 (he was born in 1954). I would like to delay my Social Security benefits until my husband files in July 2020 at his full retirement age. I’m thinking I would file for spousal benefits under his record and be eligible to receive one-half of his full retirement benefit while allowing mine to continue to grow until age 70. However, one half of his benefit is less than what my full retirement benefit would be. I’m willing to give up the money difference being that I will be collecting about $400 more a month once I turn 70. Three representatives from Social Security told me different things: That I can’t collect spousal benefits while allowing mine to grow because of a new law from 2016, that I can’t do it because my amount is larger so that’s what Social Security would give me, and that I can do my original plan. What’s correct?
— Retiring soon

A. It’s disheartening to hear that three different reps from Social Security gave you three different answers.

Of course, the rules are complicated, but one would hope you could get a consistent and correct answer to your question. We’re glad you were persistent and didn’t just take the first responses you received.

First and foremost, in order to claim spousal Social Security benefits, your husband must be receiving his own benefit, said Brendan Mullooly, a certified financial planner with Mullooly Asset Management in Wall.

He said once your husband begins to collect in July 2020, you will be eligible to collect a spousal benefit equal to 50 percent of his benefit.

The confusing advice you were receiving stems from a change to benefits collection, but people who were born before a certain year are not subject to the rules change.

“Since you were born in 1953, the `deemed filing’ rule enacted with the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act does not apply to you,” Mullooly said. “The `deemed filing’ rule means that when you file for either your retirement benefit or your spousal benefit, you are required to file for the other benefit as well.”

Social Security would then pay you the largest of the two.

So because you turned 62 before Jan. 2, 2016, you are eligible to file for either your spousal benefit or your own retirement benefit instead of both simultaneously, Mullooly said.

Those born in – or after – 1954 do not have this option, he said.

Good luck with your retirement.

Email your questions to moc.p1568571076leHye1568571076noMJN1568571076@ksA1568571076.

This story was originally published on June 10, 2019.

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