When my husband was alive, he collected Social Security on his record and I collected on mine, because it was more than half of his. After his death in 2012, as his widow, I switched to collecting his benefit. Last year I made $4,000 as a substitute teacher and Social Security was taken out of my earnings. Now Social Security writes me that it has increased my old benefit, and decreased my husband’s benefit — so I’ll continue getting the same monthly amount! Since I’m now collecting on my husband’s record, shouldn’t the increase apply to that benefit instead of reverting to my old benefit?
No. Your earnings can only increase the benefit based on your work record.
Your situation is a perfect example of a basic rule: When you’re eligible for a Social Security benefit based on two earnings records — known as “dual-eligible” — you receive an amount equal to the larger of the two.
It’s easier to understand how this works if we illustrate it with numbers. Let’s say your late husband’s benefit was $1,000. Your maximum spousal benefit was half that amount, or $500. But the benefit you earned based on your own record was $750, so during his lifetime, you received $750. As his widow, you began collecting $1,000. You thought of this as getting his benefit. But actually, you were collecting your own $750 benefit plus $250 based on your late husband’s record.
Then your earnings in retirement increased your own benefit — let’s say from $750 to $755. Your $1,000 survivor benefit is still the larger benefit, so you’ll still collect that amount. But now, you’ll be receiving $755 based on your record, plus $245 based on his.
THE BOTTOM LINE Your earnings in retirement can boost your own Social Security benefit, but they can’t increase your survivor benefit.
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