Can I collect Social Security from either of my spouses?

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Q. I am going to be 62 in January 2020. I’m still working part-time and will continue to do so for a few more years. Am I able to collect Social Security at age 62 from either my current husband or my former husband until I retire, and then collect my own benefit when I stop working? My current husband is 67 and collects Social Security benefits. We’ve been married for 26 years. My former husband died in 1992. We were married 14 years.
— Still working

A. The rules surrounding Social Security can be complex, so we’re glad you asked.

When you reach age 62, you will be eligible to collect spousal Social Security benefits based on your current husband’s benefit amount, said Melissa Raimundo, a certified financial planner with with Beacon Trust in Morristown.

She said the maximum spousal benefit is 50 percent of your husband’s benefit at his full retirement age (FRA).

“If you choose to begin taking spousal benefits at age 62, you will receive 33.33 percent of the monthly benefit instead of the full 50 percent of your husband’s FRA benefit, given that you would be receiving benefits for an additional 56 months relative to starting to collect at your FRA – from age 62 until your full retirement age of 66 years and 8 months,” Raimundo said.

Additionally, because you are currently working, you may also be subject to the impact of earned income limits on your spousal benefit until you reach FRA, she said.

In 2019, the annual earned income limit for those under FRA is $17,640. This means that for every $2 you earn over the earnings limit ($17,640), your benefit will be reduced by $1, she said.

“Because your husband is already receiving benefits, you are subject to the ‘deemed filing’ rule when you claim benefits,” Raimundo said. “This means that you do not have the option to take the spousal benefit and subsequently wait until FRA to switch to your own benefit to receive your FRA benefit amount at that time.”

She said under the “deemed filing” rule, if your spouse is already taking the benefit, once you claim benefits, you are deemed as filing for spousal benefits at that time. As a result, Social Security will automatically pay the greater of the two benefit amounts, taking into account the respective reduction rates if you file before attaining FRA.

As it relates to benefits based on your former spouse, you are not eligible to receive any survivor or spousal benefits based on his record because you remarried prior to age 60 and you are still married to your current husband, Raimundo said.

“Generally, the person claiming spousal benefits must be currently married to the primary recipient of benefits,” she said. “The rules do stipulate that former spouses can receive benefits if their marriage lasted 10 years or longer, but that is restricted when the person claiming is remarried and their current spouse is still living. The same holds true for survivor benefits.”

It is also important to understand your options for collecting benefits early based off of your own earnings record, Raimundo said.

Given that you will be 62 in January 2020, you will achieve full retirement age at 66 and 8 months. At that point, you will be eligible to start collecting unreduced Social Security benefits based off of your own earnings record, she said.

However, taking your benefit prior to full retirement age will result in a reduction in your benefit amount, given that you would be receiving your benefits for a longer period of time.

“For example, taking your benefits at age 62 results in a roughly 28 percent reduction of your full retirement age benefit, given that you would be receiving your benefit for an additional 56 months,” she said. “Additionally, you will be subject to earned income limits, which may further impact the benefit amount. The benefit reduction resulting from claiming retirement benefits early cannot be readjusted once you attain FRA.”

There’s a tax rule or two you also need to understand.

“If you are still working at that time, a portion of your benefits may be withheld in the year you reach FRA if your earned income exceeds a certain level,” she said. “In the year you reach full retirement age, $1 in benefits is deducted for every $3 you earn above the earnings limit.”

For 2019, the earnings limit is $46,920.

But you should note that only the earnings before the month you reach your full retirement age are counted towards that limit. When you reach full retirement age, a portion of the deducted amount may come back to you, she said.

“Social Security will recalculate upward the amount of benefits you will receive, taking into account the amounts you lost due to earned income limits,” she said. “The lost amounts will be made up by only a small amount per year, generally taking about 15 years to be completely retrieved.”

You should check your Social Security account online or visit a local Social Security office to discuss your options.

Email your questions to moc.p1575722489leHye1575722489noMJN1575722489@ksA1575722489.

This story was originally published on Nov. 18, 2019.

NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.