Ask Larry: Should My Husband Have Filed In January Or Earlier To Receive The COLA?

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Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about whether filing dates can affect the application of COLAs to benefits, how public pensions can affect spousal benefits and submitting applications before benefits begin. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.

Should My Husband Have Filed In January Or Earlier To Receive The COLA?

My husband was receiving spousal benefits before he filed for his benefit at 70. He turned 70 in December of last year. Should he have filed for his retirement benefit to have begun in January 2023 or earlier because of the COLA for 2023? Will it make any difference at all if he received his first SSA payment in 2022 or 2023 as far as receiving COLA? Thanks, Gloria

Hi Gloria, All Social Security cost of living allowances (COLAs) that occur after a person turns 62 are added to a their Social Security retirement benefit rate regardless of whether or not they are collecting benefits.

Your husband will get credit for the January 2023 COLA regardless of when he claimed his benefits. So if he claimed before December, he’d be forgoing the delayed retirement credits (DRCs) he’d have earned by waiting till 70 but he wouldn’t have any more COLA increases than he’d have received if he waited till 70 to file. Best, Larry

Why Can’t My Mother Get Her Spousal Benefit Equal To Half Of My Father’s Benefit Amount?

Hi Larry, My mother was born in1937 and worked the minimum quarters for SS in private business and receives about $1,600 per year in benefits which doesn’t even cover the Medicare costs.

She then worked for the federal government for 30 years. My father worked for the state of Michigan so he gets a pension and his retirement benefit. I realize my mother didn’t pay into Social Security but neither did a friend of hers who is drawing a full spousal benefit based on her husband’s account. Why shouldn’t she be getting more? Thanks, Jake

Hi Jake, If your mother receives a Civil Service (CSRS) pension based on her earnings that weren’t subject to Social Security taxes, then any Social Security spousal or survivor benefits for which she’d otherwise qualify would likely be offset by 2/3rds of the amount of her CSRS pension. That’s due to the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision that was added to the Social Security law by Congress in the early 1980s.

Assuming that your mother’s Social Security spousal or survivor rate would amount to less than 2/3rds of the amount of her CSRS pension, then she likely couldn’t be paid any monthly spousal or survivor benefits from Social Security.

It’s important to note that I don’t have access to all of the facts involved in your mother’s case, so I can’t advise you regarding any benefit options that she may have.

Your mother may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to ensure your household receives the highest lifetime benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Our software can also confirm your correct benefit amount, ensuring you aren’t being paid too little or too much, which could lead to potential clawbacks due to Social Security’s overpayment to you. Best, Larry

Can I Sign Up Today And Start My Benefits Two Weeks Later?

Hi Larry, Can I sign up for Social Security benefits at the end of April but start them in the middle of May? Will doing so impact the dollar amount I receive? Thanks, Gary

Hi Gary, Social Security applications can be filed up to four months prior to the month you want to start benefits, so yes, assuming that you meet the requirements for eligibility you could file at the end of this month and elect May as your initial month of entitlement.

You can’t pick a specific day to start your benefits though, just
the month. Also, Social Security benefits are paid a month behind, so if you elect to start benefits effective with May your first payment would not be due until June.

Whether or not the month you choose to start benefits would make a difference in your benefit rate depends on the type of benefit you claim and your age. For example, Social Security retirement benefits can potentially be claimed starting in any month from 62 to 70, and each month would yield a different monthly benefit rate. Best, Larry

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