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Ask Bob: Why Has My Social Security Spousal Benefit Decreased?

Our experts answer a Retirement Daily reader's question about Social Security spousal benefits.

Question

The spousal benefit was initially 50% of my Social Security payments, based on my earnings. After roughly 20 years of retirement, my wife’s Social Security payments are only about 40% of my payments due to the annual COLA (Cost of Living Adjustments) applied to each of our accounts. Is there a way to rectify the situation and get her payments back to 50% of mine?

Answer

The reader doesn’t give his or his wife’s age, or when they started claiming benefits, but if she filed prior to her own spousal full retirement age (FRA), then she would have a reduction in benefits, which would always lag his benefit says David Cechanowicz, senior financial planner with RedWWealth, LLC. “The COLA is paid the same to each beneficiary. A spousal benefit can be as low as 35% of the primary claimant’s benefit, if claimed early,” he explains.

“There is one really odd way this could have happened,” Cechanowicz notes, “going back to when the ‘Freedom to work act’ passed some 22 years ago. At that time, clients were able to suspend benefits for the first time and it is possible that the reader suspended his benefits and his wife was able to claim the spousal benefit. Then, if he waited a year or two, he would have gotten the Delayed Retirement Credits, which are not eligible for splitting with a spouse.” If he filed a year and a half later, he would have received a 10-12% increase in his benefit, which would have made a difference in benefits that would have then stayed something like 10% apart for the next 20 years.

“But I doubt that's what happened,” says Cechanowicz. “Best that he goes and gets confirmation from the Social Security Administration and if they have been doing something wrong, they can fix it.”

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Question

The spousal benefit was initially 50% of my Social Security payments, based on my earnings. After roughly 20 years of retirement, my wife’s Social Security payments are only about 40% of my payments due to the annual COLA (Cost of Living Adjustments) applied to each of our accounts. Is there a way to rectify the situation and get her payments back to 50% of mine?

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