Spousal child-in-care benefits

Q: I recently reached age 62 and start early Social Security in January. I will also receive dependent benefits for our 17-year-old son who is in high school and lives at home. Can my wife receive Social Security on my record now because our son will? She is in her 50’s and working.

A: Based on the information provided, the answer here is no but the question helps showcase a type of spousal benefit that many people are not aware of.

When discussing potential Social Security spousal benefits to either husband or wife, most people think only of a spouse also at least early retirement age of 62. Another variation of spousal benefits is possible to your spouse of any age when a child is receiving Social Security through your work record.

Potential spousal benefits because children are receiving benefits are mentioned in the publication Benefits for Children and in the Retirement Benefits booklet (page 10) which states “However, if your spouse is taking care of a child who is under age 16, or disabled, and gets Social Security benefits on your record, your spouse gets full benefits, regardless of age.”

Since this type of spousal benefit is possible because there is an eligible child under the age of 16 or disabled receiving benefits, the age of the spouse is not a factor for eligibility or amount.

When working full time, many parents who might otherwise be entitled to this type of spousal benefit choose not to file for it. This is because the annual earnings test applies to them and expected earnings could negate any SSA potentially payable. Earnings test amounts for 2016 will be the same as in 2015.

Note that the child receiving benefits must be under age 16 or eligible because of disability. Since the child referred to in the above question is already age 17 with no mention of being disabled, benefits to him would not make his mother eligible for benefits.

When payable, amounts for this benefit are based on the retiree’s full retirement age (FRA) amount, not his or her actual monthly Social Security amount. Child and spouse each receive the same monthly amount of up to one-half of the retiree’s FRA amount. If payable, these spousal benefits are not reduced for age. Estimate your FRA amount with the Retirement Estimator tool in the SSA Retirement Planner or by viewing your SSA Statement through your my Social Security account.

Although this question referred to Social Security retirement benefits, the same type of spousal benefit is available if a worker receives Social Security disability benefits, with an eligible child as above.

If the worker is deceased, Social Security survivors benefits could be payable to a widow or widower of any age if an eligible child younger than age 16 or disabled received benefits.

Another important item is related to this original question. If you receive Social Security benefits for someone else, you are that person’s representative payee and responsible for accounting to Social Security about how benefits are used. As payee, the father in this question is responsible for making any necessary reports concerning his son’s eligibility to Social Security. A booklet about being a representative payee is here.



SSA Disability benefits in your state & more

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  While a time to celebrate the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities, this is also a good time to remind you that disability is unpredictable and can happen to anyone at any age. Fifty-six million Americans, or 1-in-5, live with disabilities.

As of December 2014, benefits to disabled workers and their eligible family members accounted for about 18.5 percent of Social Security benefits. At that time, the number of disabled workers and their eligible family members receiving Social Security disability in states near me were: North Dakota, 16,737; Minnesota, 155,061;  South Dakota , 23,214; and in Montana, 32,976.

Social Security disability benefit information for each state is here.  Data is for each Congressional District, as of December 2014, with the number of disabled workers and family members receiving monthly Social Security Disability Insurance plus the amounts of those benefits.


Disability is something many Americans, especially younger people, think can only affect the lives of other people. A fact for 20-year-olds, insured for benefits by working, is that more than 1-in-4 of them becomes disabled before reaching retirement age and may need Social Security disability benefits as a critical source of financial support when they need it most.

At the beginning of 2015, Social Security paid an average monthly disability benefit of $1,165. That is barely enough to keep a beneficiary above the 2014 poverty level ($11,670 annually). For many beneficiaries, their monthly disability payment represents most of their income. Even these modest payments can make a huge difference in the lives of people who can no longer work. They allow people to meet basic needs and the needs of their families. Learn more in the Faces and Facts of Disability section at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts/.

Are younger than retirement age? Do you have children dependent on you? If struck by a severe illness or injury, what would be the potential amount of Social Security disability benefits payable to you and eligible family members?

Obtain an estimate by creating your personal, pin and password secured, my Social Security account. Estimated monthly disability amounts are on your Social Security Statement. Use them with your other family financial planning.


Can you afford to retire?

Best wishes if you are one of the many people planning to retire soon. A secure, comfortable retirement is every worker’s dream. Since people are generally living longer, healthier lives, we can expect to spend more time in retirement than our parents and grandparents did.

Retirement can last many years. As one part of your decision, can you afford it?

Before making your final decision, keep in mind that Social Security was never intended to provide full retirement income. It goes along with your other pensions, savings and investments.

The average, national, monthly Social Security retirement amount clearly shows this. For a retiree on his or her own work record, the average benefit was $1,336.86 in August 2015. This does not include benefits paid to any other family member receiving on that same record, such as a spouse or child. You can see the August 2015 national averages for family members of a retiree and for Social Security survivors and disability related benefits in the Monthly Statistical Snapshot.

Snapshot information is updated each month. The number of beneficiaries is shown in the thousands; total amounts of benefits shown in the millions and average monthly amounts in dollars.

Use the Social Security retirement planner tools to estimate your personal Social Security retirement amount. Once you obtain a personal estimate of your monthly amount at full retirement age, use the “compute the effect of early or delayed retirement calculator,” to compare your estimated amount at different ages and for any month starting with age 62 to age 70.

When ready, complete your retirement application online. Learn how here.


Widow benefit amounts

Q: If you start widow’s benefits at age 60, you get a lesser amount. Does it go up as you get older?

A: Before getting to the question, I want to clarify that Social Security survivors benefits can be received by a widow or widower much younger than age 60. People die at all ages and different Social Security survivors benefits can apply in different situations.

For example, survivors benefits can be payable to much younger widows or widowers if children are involved. Benefits can be paid at age 50 to a disabled widow or widower. Based on age, 60 is the youngest age to start Social Security survivors benefits as a widower or widow. The booklet “Survivors Benefits” provides an overview of benefits.

Always contact Social Security when there is a death in the family to discuss possible benefits for now or in the future.

A Social Security survivors benefit amount is based on the earnings of the person who died. The more he or she paid into Social Security, the higher survivors benefits would be. The monthly amount you would get is a percentage of the deceased’s basic Social Security benefit. It depends on your age and the type of survivors benefit received.

When you start Social Security survivors benefits based on age at 60, the amount is permanently reduced, other than any cost of living increases, because you are starting benefits when younger than your survivors full retirement age (FRA).

Survivors full retirement ages are different from retirement FRA but the process is similar. The percentage of benefit received depends on how many months you are away from FRA when starting benefits. Each month of delay provides a higher benefit. As with retirement, the choice is to take a smaller benefit for potentially a longer time or a higher benefit for a shorter number of years.

Using the chart for survivors full retirement age of 66, for birth years 1945 – 1956, some approximate percentages of the maximum survivors benefit for different starting ages are:

  • Age 60: 71.5% because you get benefits for 72 months before FRA.
  • Age 62: 81.0% because you get benefits for 48 months before FRA.
  • Age 65: 95.3% because you get benefits for 12 months before FRA.

The Social Security survivors homepage has more information and links to the Survivors Planner section.

Consider your options before starting benefits, especially if you will also be eligible to receive your own Social Security retirement. For example, you could start the smaller of these benefits at a reduced rate and then, when older, such as at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit type at an unreduced rate.

Survivors estimates are not available online. If you do not receive Social Security benefits now, you can estimate potential survivors benefits for your family through your work record by creating a my Social Security account and viewing your Statement.


Will marriage change my Social Security?

Q: Will marriage change my Social Security benefits?

A: Remember that these articles provide general information and the answer to such a broad question varies with the type of Social Security benefits received. To learn about your actual benefits, contact Social Security and have a representative check your record.

Marriage will not change Social Security retirement or disability benefits from your own work record because they are based largely on your personal work history over many years and age when starting retirement or becoming disabled. Amounts received by husband or wife through their personal work records do not affect what the other receives.

Do you receive Social Security benefits as a divorced spouse? If a divorced spouse remarries, he or she generally cannot collect benefits on the record of the former spouse unless the later marriage ends.

If you receive Social Security survivors benefits as a widow or widower, your age at remarriage makes a difference in the answer. Widow or widowers of many ages receive Social Security survivor benefits. In general, if you remarry after you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits. For example, remarriage could end Social Security survivors benefits to a widow at age 40 but not to the same person at age 61. Social Security benefits to a surviving divorced spouse follow this age difference too.

Children can receive Social Security benefits through the work record of a parent. With rare exception, these Social Security benefits end if the child marries.

In addition to Social Security retirement, survivors and disability benefits, the Social Security Administration is also responsible for the very different, need based, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Since household income is used to compute SSI amounts, marriage could change monthly amounts.

Bad things only happen to other people

Of course you have heard the saying “Bad things only happen to other people.” However, we are all “other people” to everyone else.

This brings me to the reminder that Social Security is much more than retirement. Nationally, about 10 percent of SSA monthly benefits go to survivors of all ages due to a death in the family and about 19 percent go to disabled workers and their families.

You can obtain both survivor and disability estimates on your record by creating a personal, pin and password protected, my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/ and viewing your Social Security Statement.

Hoping that you never need this information is different from planning in case you, or your family, do.

Learn more about Social Security disability and survivors benefits now. Make that information part of your family financial planning.

Then you can tell other people about them.

Social Security benefits by state and county

The annual publication “OASDI Beneficiaries by State and County” was recently released with information as of December 2014. OASDI is the Social Security retirement, survivors and disability benefits.

From the preface:

This annual publication focuses on the Social Security beneficiary population—people receiving Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) benefits—at the local level. It presents basic program data on the number and type of beneficiaries and the amount of benefits paid in each state and county. It also shows the numbers of men and women aged 65 or older receiving benefits. … “ 

As of December 2014, approximately 18.5 percent of the United States population received a monthly Social Security benefit with about 91 percent of people aged 65 or older receiving benefits.

How many people receive Social Security benefits in your state?

In your county?

How much money does that involve?

Find out here. For a specific state and county as of December 2014, click on the state information. Then scroll down to Table 4 to seen the number of beneficiaries in that state, with individual county data. Scroll down to Table 5 for the amount of benefits involved. Note that amounts are shown in thousands of dollars. 2014-SSA-state&county

When eligible as widow and retiree

Q: Does starting Social Security as a widow prevent me from receiving my own retirement?

A: No. If eligible for SSA survivors benefits as widow or widower and also eligible for your own retirement, you can start the smaller one first and switch to the higher later on. Based on age, survivors benefits can start as early as age 60 and retirement at age 62.

You can estimate Social Security retirement amounts online but estimated survivors benefits are not available online.

Get survivors estimates from your local SSA office and of your own retirement online at the SSA retirement planner, www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/. To consider your options, my suggestion is to get estimates for each type of benefit at different ages.

Some options to consider are in the Social Security survivors planner section. The following is from the “if you are the worker’s widow or widower / how much would your benefit be?” pages.  

“If you receive benefits as a widow or widower or as a surviving divorced spouse, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes you are eligible for retirement benefits and your retirement rate is higher than your rate as a widow, widower or surviving divorced spouse.  

In many cases, a widow or widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then, at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate.” 

Having the option to start with the lower benefit and then switching to a higher one later is useful but what you decide is based on your personal situation. Many people choose the largest amount immediately available, even if a reduced amount, and do not switch benefit types.

More about Social Security survivors benefits is at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/survivors/.



The start of Social Security disability benefits

The original Social Security disability benefits did not provide monthly payments.

As signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Social Security Amendments of 1954, originally disability benefits provided for a “freeze” to a person’s record during the years when they were unable to work. This was to help prevent periods of disability from reducing or wiping out retirement and survivor benefits due to reduced earnings.

On August 1, 1956, the Social Security Act was amended to provide monthly cash benefits to permanently and totally disabled workers aged 50-64 and to pay child’s benefits to disabled children aged 18 or over of retired or deceased workers, if their disability began before age 18.

More changes came later.

Learn about today’s Social Security disability program here.



Same-sex marriage update

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, holding that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in all states. As a result, more same-sex couples will be recognized as married for purposes of determining entitlement to Social Security benefits or eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments.

The Social Security Administration is working with the Department of Justice to analyze the decision and provide instructions for processing claims. Local offices are receiving updated instructions for different states on a flow basis.

Information for same-sex couples is on the Social Security website at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/people/same-sexcouples/.

A  direct link to this section is at the bottom of the SSA website homepagesame-sex website