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Widower Seeking Answers About Social Security – Ask Rusty

social security-rusty-marry-girlfriend social security benefits benefit increase medicareDear Rusty: I have two questions. My wife passed away in May of 2015, and I never received any of her benefits. Should I have? Also, I am now 62, turning 63 next month. I am still working and probably won’t quit until age 75 or older. Should I start taking benefits now? Signed: Bewildered

Dear Bewildered: As a widower, you could have started receiving a survivor benefit from your wife at 60 years of age, though it would have been reduced by about 28.5% for claiming early. But you haven’t really lost those benefits because you can still claim them, and they won’t be reduced as much now because you’d be claiming closer to your widower’s full retirement age (FRA) of 66. In your specific case, your “widower FRA” is 4 months earlier than your normal FRA of 66 plus 4 months, because a survivor’s FRA is determined by subtracting 2 years from their actual birth date. Since you were born in 1956, Social Security uses 1954 as the date to determine your FRA for survivor benefits.

Since you are now 62 (turning 63 soon), you have a choice to collect either your own benefit or your survivor benefit, and which one you should choose depends upon which one would be highest when it reaches maximum. Your survivor benefit will reach its maximum when you reach your widower FRA; your own benefit will reach its maximum at age 70. You might choose to collect your survivor benefit first and allow your own benefit to grow until you are 70 when it would be about 29% more than it would be at your normal FRA. Or, if your survivor benefit at your widower FRA would be more, you could choose to take your own benefit until your survivor benefit reaches maximum at your widower FRA. But there is one catch you should consider. Any time Social Security benefits of any kind are taken before one’s full retirement age and you continue to work, you will be subject to Social Security’s “earnings test”. That means that if your earnings from working exceed the annual earnings limit ($17,640 for 2019), Social Security will take back $1 for every $2 you are over the limit, and they’ll withhold that from future benefits until they recover what you owe. Once you reach your normal full retirement age the earnings limit goes away, and you can earn as much as you like without penalty. For clarity, when you reach your normal full retirement age they will recompute your benefit and give you time credit for any month’s benefits withheld, which will increase your benefit slightly allowing you to recover some (or eventually all) of the withheld benefits. But exceeding the annual earnings limit before your reach your normal FRA will cause you to lose current benefits for some number of months.

Provided that your finances, your health and your expected longevity allow it, and provided that your own benefit at age 70 will be more than your survivor benefit, you may want to consider a strategy of postponing your own benefit, and also delaying your claim for the survivor benefit until it reaches maximum at your widower’s FRA. Then at your widower’s FRA (66) you could claim 100% of your survivor benefit, while allowing your own benefit to grow to maximum at age 70. In this way you would avoid any lost benefits from exceeding the earnings limit, you would collect the maximum survivor benefit between your FRA and age 70, and at that time switch to your own higher benefit for the rest of your life. This, of course, is but one of several scenarios you have available to you being dually-entitled to both survivor benefits and your own Social Security retirement benefit.

This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website ( or email us at [email protected].

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3 years ago

I have an added dimension to this question. My husband’s first wife died in 1986 and they had 2 young sons. He received SSI for each son, but wasn’t he also eligible to receive a monthly SSI check himself till the youngest reached age 16?
Also, with him remarrying could he still collect her retirement SS now that he is 65 or does the second marriage affect that status.

3 years ago

The widower indicated he had not received any of his wife’s SS benefits. Why was nothing mentioned in the article about his wife’s SS life insurance?

3 years ago

Question…. do I have to pay income tax on social security benefits?

Rick Villa
3 years ago
Reply to  Janice

Depends on how much you earn and whether you’re married or not. I think the amount is $25,000 for single people & $32,000 for married people. There’s a form on page 33 of the 1040 booklet that tells how much of your social security will be taxable if you exceed those figures. The most that will be taxable is 85%, I think.

Rose Muro
3 years ago
Reply to  Janice

If I earn too much do I have to pay income tax on widows benefits. Why?

3 years ago
Reply to  Rose Muro

Yes, you will have to pay income tax, if you have income that puts you above the thresholds set by the IRS. The rationale the federal government came up with to justify this is so-called “tax fairness”. The SJW’s in Washington decided years ago that if you have made good financial decisions and properly prepared for retirement, that your SS benefits should be subjected to means testing if you have other retirement income that puts you above the austere income levels that the government considers “NOT rich”.

It is of course neither fair nor reasonable to punish those that have done a good job of planning for retirement, but that of course doesn’t come into consideration when you are talking what the government decides to do. Few decisions the government makes are based on sound, rational judgement. All too frequently, decisions are made simply for political expediency. Sorry if this is not the answer you want to hear, but it is none the less accurate.

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