Q: My husband is 66 and has been collecting Social Security since he was 65. He is at the maximum level of Social Security (apart from the early withdrawal reduction) having been at the maximum earnings level for most of his working life. I am 66 and am not collecting Social Security. I am employed part time and earn less than “substantial earnings” as defined by the windfall elimination provision rules but enough to get credit for Social Security benefits. I have about 18 years of substantial earnings and do not expect to have 20 years or more of substantial earnings by the time I collect Social Security. I plan to continue working and won’t collect Social Security until I reach 70. I have a state pension and live in one of the states that has the windfall elimination provision, so my Social Security benefits will be reduced by the windfall elimination provision. My question is whether I can collect spousal benefits based on my husband’s earnings now until I collect my own benefits at age 70 and, if so, will my spousal benefit be reduced by the windfall elimination provision now or will my own Social Security be reduced because I have collected the spousal benefit between now and the time I collect my own benefits?
A: Here are the basic rules. If you have reached your full retirement age, which ranges between 65 and 67 depending on your year of birth, you can file and receive benefits based solely on your spouse’s Social Security record and delay filing for benefits based on your own work record up to age 70. On the other hand, if you haven’t reached full retirement age, you can apply for retirement benefits and ask to have the payment suspended. If you do that, you can file and receive a spouse’s benefit and continue to earn delayed retirement credits. However, if, as it seems, you are receiving an annuity from a retirement system where you didn’t pay Social Security taxes, your spousal benefit would be reduced by $2 for every $3 you receive in your annuity. The windfall elimination provision would only apply to your earned Social Security benefit if you have fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security, which appears to be the case.