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Woman, 88, finds she may qualify for spousal benefits from hubby, 92

The Social Security Administration considers a person's primary

The Social Security Administration considers a person's primary insurance amount, or PIA, when determining spousal benefits. Your PIA must be less than half your spouse's in order to qualify. Photo Credit: AP / Bradley C Bower

DEAR CARRIE: I started receiving Social Security benefits some time ago at age 62 based on my work history. My husband retired at 68 and receives much more than I do. I realized that recently when I was helping him with some papers. Am I eligible to receive half of his monthly amount as a spousal benefit? I am 88 and he is 92. — More Benefits?

DEAR MORE: The answer depends on how your “primary insurance amount” stacks up against his. A person’s primary insurance amount — PIA in Social Security parlance — is his or her original Social Security benefit before reductions for receiving benefits early or increases for delaying them, said Linda Lauria, a spokeswoman in the Social Security Administration’s Manhattan office.

In order to qualify for a spousal benefit, your primary amount must be less than half of your husband’s. Lauria offered this example: Let’s say your primary benefit amount is $1,000 a month and your husband’s is $1,500. Half of his is $750. So in that example, you wouldn’t qualify for additional money from a spousal benefit because your primary amount exceeds half of his.

“When determining eligibility for spouse’s benefits, we look solely at the [primary insurance amount] of both spouses,” Lauria said.

So the monthly amounts that you receive because you accessed your benefits early or that your husband gets because he delayed his, have no bearing on that calculation.

But those factors do affect how much you receive each month. An original $1,000 benefit would have been reduced to $800 because you started benefits before your full retirement age of 65, Lauria said. By contrast, your husband’s benefit would have increased from $1,500 to $1,635. Given the year he was born, 1924, he would have accrued delayed retirement credits at a rate of ¼ of 1 percent for each month over age 65, or 3 percent a year, she said. Since he didn’t start receiving Social Security benefits until age 68, three years past his full retirement age, his primary amount would have increased by 9 percent, or $135, Lauria said.

If you outlive your husband, you would be eligible for widow’s benefits. And since you are of full retirement age, you would qualify for his full benefit, including the delayed retirement credits, Lauria said. Based on the amounts in the example above, you would be eligible for a benefit of $1,635, she said. So you would continue to receive your own $800 retirement benefit plus an additional $835 from your husband’s record, she said.

DEAR CARRIE: I was employed by New York Telephone from 1971 to 1982. Would I be entitled to a pension? Where would I call to find out? The company no longer exists. — Which Number?

DEAR WHICH NUMBER: Talk about a blast from the past. New York Telephone was part of the old Bell Atlantic system, which through mergers helped to form Verizon Communications. If you were vested in the pension, then you would be entitled to benefits when you reach the plan’s retirement age.

The first thing you should do, said a spokesman for the U.S. Labor Department, is to contact its Employee Benefits Security Administration division and speak with a benefits adviser. After getting information from you, the adviser will respond to your request by email or by phone, the spokesman said. (See textbox accompanying online story for contact information.)

“If at all possible, callers should include both their email address and daytime telephone number to help expedite a prompt response,” the spokesman said.

To find out if you are entitled to a pension from a previous job, contact EBSA at 212-607-8600 or online at or (Click on the “Ask EBSA” tab).

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