Question: My wife died two years ago at age 53. I am currently 53. At the time, I was told that I would receive 80% of her Social Security when I reached retirement age in addition to my Social Security if I did not remarry. Is this true? We both worked long enough to qualify for Social Security at retirement age.
Answer: Looks like you got some bad information, according to Joe Elsasser, president of Covisum and the developer of Social Security Timing. "The general rule of thumb for coordinating all benefits is that a beneficiary receives the higher of his or her own benefit or the benefit of the deceased," he said.
That said, even after the law changes a few years ago, Elsasser said there are significant opportunities for widows or widowers to make smart Social Security decisions.
"Assuming your income isn't too high, you could elect only your widower benefit at age 60 while delaying your own benefit to as late as age 70, or you could elect your own benefit as early as age 62 and delay your widower benefit to your full retirement age of 67," said Elsasser said. "One of these options likely makes sense."
Question: Early in my career -- about 30 years ago -- I attempted to make a living by selling real estate. There were about five lean years back in the mid-'80s. With me continuing to work after my full retirement age (which was last October), when will the wages I have earned in 2017, and those that I will earn in 2018, be applied to the 35-year average?
Answer: According to Donna Clements, the author of Mercer's 2018 Guide to Social Security, earnings for the current year are typically posted by the end of September of the following year and payable in December. The increase, she said, would be retroactive to January.
Of note: The Social Security Administration (SSA) bases your Social Security benefits on your lifetime earnings, according to Your Retirement Benefit: How It's Figured.
The SSA adjusts or "indexes" your actual earnings to account for changes in average wages since the year the earnings were received. Then Social Security calculates your average indexed monthly earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most.
Social Security applies a formula to these earnings and arrives at your basic benefit, or "primary insurance amount." This, according to the SSA, is how much you would receive at your full retirement age -- 65 or older, depending on your date of birth.
Got questions about the new tax law, Social Security, retirement and/or investments? Email Robert.Powell@TheStreet.com.