Ask Larry: Are Social Security Survivor Benefits Really Available With Under 10 Years Of Marriage?

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Today’s column addresses questions about how many years a couple must be married before one could be eligible for survivor’s benefits on the other’s record, how month of filing affects when delayed retirement credits are paid and what week of the month benefits are paid. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Will Social Security Survivor Benefits Really Be Available After Less Than 10 Years Of Marriage?

HI Larry, My husband and I are both on SSA. We’re both 73 and we got married in 2017. I was told by one person that we have to be married for at least 10 years before I’d be able to get a widow’s benefit from his record but someone else said it’s less than a year that we need to be married. Which is right? Thanks, Karen

Hi Karen, If you’re currently married to your husband when he dies, you wouldn’t need to have been married for 10 years to potentially qualify for widow’s benefits. You only need to have been married for at least nine months to meet the duration of marriage requirement for widow’s benefits. The 10 year requirement applies to divorced spousal and divorced survivor’s benefits.

The surviving member of a couple can be paid a total benefit rate of up to the higher of their two benefit rates. So if you husband dies before you and if his benefit amount is more than your benefit amount, then you could be paid a widow’s benefit equal to his amount instead of your retirement benefit.

Technically, Social Security would continue to pay you your benefit plus a partial widow’s benefit, but the two amounts would add up to your husband’s higher benefit rate. Best, Larry

If I File The Month I Turn 69, Will I Get All Of My DRCs On My First Check?

HI Larry, Thank you for your help. I turn 69 in October 2021. If I file for Social Security to be effective for October, will I get all of my DRC’s on my first check or should I wait and file for December of 2021 to get all my DRC’s for the entire year? Thanks, Ahmed

Hi Ahmed, If you claim your benefits effective either October or December, you won’t get all of your delayed retirement credits (DRCs) on your first payment. The only way that you’ll get all of the DRCs you’ve earned on your first payment is if you claim benefits effective January, or the month you turn age 70.

If you start drawing benefits between FRA and 70, Social Security initially only gives you credit for any DRCs that you earned through December of the year prior to the year you start collecting. Any DRCs earned in the year that you start drawing are subsequently credited in your payment for January of the year after the year you claimed benefits.

You may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully explore all of you options so that you can determine the best strategy for maximizing your benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Can I Change My Direct Deposit From The Third Wednesday Of The Month To The Second Wednesday?

HI Larry, I get my Social Security check by direct deposit on the third week each month. Can I change the direct deposit to the second week of each month? If so, how would I go about doing this? Thanks, Steven

Hi Steven, The day of the month on which you get your monthly benefit payment is not optional. Your payment day is determined by your day of birth. People born in the first 10 days of a month are normally paid their Social Security benefits on the second Wednesday of the month. People born from the 11th to 20th day of a month are paid on the third Wednesday. People born after the 20th day of a month are normally paid on the fourth Wednesday of the month.

I should clarify though that the birth day used is the birthday of the worker on whose account the benefits are paid. So if someone is collecting only auxiliary (e.g. spousal, child) or survivor benefits, their payment day is determined by the birth day of the person whose account they collect benefits on.

Some people are still paid their Social Security benefits on the third day of the month, but only if they either started drawing benefits prior to May 1997 or if they receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in addition to their Social Security benefits. Best, Larry

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