Social Security 301

By Tammy Flanagan

October 2, 2009

My column on Social Security two weeks ago drew a lot of response from readers, and last week I addressed some of them. This week, I'd like to finish up the subject by taking on a few more lingering questions.

Will I be able to collect any Social Security when I reach 70, after retiring under the Civil Service Retirement System? I have all my credits paid in for Social Security.

If you're at your full retirement age (65-67, depending on your year of birth), you are eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits now, even though you haven't retired. There is no earnings limit once you reach full retirement age. While you are working and not receiving your CSRS retirement benefit, you will not be affected by the Windfall Elimination Provision. Once you are retired and receiving your CSRS benefit, your Social Security will be recomputed using a modified formula because of the Windfall Elimination Provision. This will reduce, but not eliminate, your Social Security benefit.

I'm a law enforcement officer under the Federal Employees Retirement System. I started service in 1996 and can retire as early as 52 or at a maximum of 57. I've been told that I can receive special Social Security payments before I reach the Social Security retirement age. Is that true?

Yes. This supplement is part of your FERS retirement benefit and is paid by the Office of Personnel Management, not the Social Security Administration. It is paid to you because you are retiring with an unreduced FERS retirement benefit while you are too young to receive Social Security. It bridges the time between your FERS retirement and Social Security eligibility. Here are two columns I wrote on this subject:

I was a 60-year-old widow two years ago after being married for 40 years. Within two years I married again, and I'm still working. Since I'm 63, can I file for Social Security benefits from my spouse, whom I was married to for 40 years? If not, can I file for benefits from my one-year spouse, who also is 63?

If you remarry after 60 (or 50 if you're disabled), you still can collect benefits on your former spouse's record. When you reach 62, you can get retirement benefits on the record of your new spouse if those benefits are higher than yours. If you are collecting survivor's benefits, you can switch to your own retirement benefits (assuming you're eligible and your retirement rate is higher than the widow/widower's rate) as early as 62. Here's a link to more information.

Is any work being done to remove the penalty for receiving Social Security before full retirement age while still working?

You are referring to the Social Security earnings limit. I don't know of any proposals that would eliminate this test. Here's a fact sheet on how it is applied.

I will be working past 70. Should I go ahead and apply for benefits at 70, even though I'm still working?

I don't see any reason why you would not apply for your Social Security retirement benefit at 70 (or even earlier, depending on your plans for the money). There is no earnings limit after your normal retirement age (65-67) and no further delayed retirement credits past 70, so this would be the maximum benefit you would be entitled to receive. Keep in mind that if you continue working and your wages are higher than in previous years of your career, your benefit might still be adjusted to reflect a higher average lifetime wage.

I understand my former spouse, to whom I was married for more than 10 years, can file for Social Security benefits when she reaches retirement age if she does not remarry. I provide financial and health care support for my 8-year old daughter, who resides with her mother. I am applying for Social Security retirement since I will be 62 very shortly. Can I receive benefits for my daughter?

Your dependent daughter will be eligible for children's benefits when you begin receiving your Social Security retirement. In some cases, children also are eligible for benefits on their grandparents' earnings.

To get benefits, a child must have a parent who is disabled or retired and entitled to Social Security benefits, or who died after having worked long enough in a job where he or she paid Social Security taxes. The child also must be unmarried and one of the following:

Here's more information.

My wife is 62 and has never worked outside the home. I am 56 and will be working until I am 66. Does this mean that my wife will have to wait until she's? 72 before she can have any benefit from Social Security?

It depends on what happens. If you decide to file for Social Security retirement benefits at 62, your wife will be 68, and she can apply for spousal benefits equal to 50 percent of your full benefit (even though you will be receiving a reduced benefit at 62). If you die before your wife, she is already old enough to receive a widow's benefit. If you continue working past 62, she will have to wait for you to apply for your benefit before she can receive a benefit based on your work record.

Tammy Flanagan is the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars. She has spent 25 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits.

For more retirement planning help, tune in to "For Your Benefit," presented by the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc. live on Monday mornings at 10 a.m. ET on or on WFED AM 1500 in the Washington metro area.

By Tammy Flanagan

October 2, 2009