Dear Rusty: I applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and was denied. So, because I turn 62 this month, I plan to file for my early SS retirement benefits. Since I’ve not worked a lot due to health issues I won’t get much and I realize my benefit will be reduced by about 30% from my full retirement age amount, but we need the extra income to help with my medical bills. My husband is 57 and still works. Social Security will be our only retirement so he will be working for as long as he can. My question is, how will my early retirement affect any spousal benefits I might qualify for in the future? Or my widow’s benefits if he should die before I do? Signed: Worried Spouse
Dear Worried: Claiming your own SS benefit at age 62 will cause your spousal benefit to be less when your spouse benefit starts (when your husband claims). That’s because your spousal benefit will be in the form of a “spousal boost” which will be added to the reduced SS benefit you will get by filing at age 62. The amount of your spousal boost will depend upon how old you are when your husband claims (which is when your spousal benefit kicks in). If you’ve reached your full retirement age (FRA) of 66 years and 8 months, your spousal boost will be the difference between 1) your SS retirement benefit amount at your FRA (regardless of when you claimed) and 2) half (50%) of the benefit your husband is entitled to at his FRA (regardless of when he claims). At your FRA you get the full amount of the spousal boost; but taken before your FRA the spousal boost will be actuarially reduced according to the number of months prior to FRA it is taken. Since the spousal boost is added to the benefit you are already receiving, you claiming your reduced benefits at age 62 means your spousal benefit will also be reduced. But your spousal benefit (while your husband is living) is entirely different from your survivor benefit if your husband dies before you.
As your husband’s widow, provided you have reached your FRA you will get 100% of the amount he was receiving (or entitled to receive) at his death, instead of your smaller benefit from claiming at age 62. In other words, that you claimed your own benefit at 62 doesn’t affect your survivor benefit. But if the survivor benefit is claimed before you reach your full retirement age it will be reduced due to claiming it early (the reduction is about 4.75% for each year early). Note that you do not have to claim the survivor benefit immediately; you may wait to claim until it reaches maximum at your FRA.
One final point: Statistically, about 2/3rds of all initial SSDI disability applications are denied. If you believe strongly that you’ve been unfairly denied, you can appeal that denial, even if you go ahead and claim your own SS benefit at age 62. To appeal the SSDI denial you should submit form SSA-561 – Request for Reconsideration, which you can find at this link, www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-561.html.
Russell Gloor is an Association of Mature American Citizens certified social security advisor. To submit a question, visitamacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory or email email@example.com.