Ask Larry

Professor Laurence Kotlikoff, Economics, Boston University My weekly Ask Larry column ran for almost four years at PBS NewsHours' site. We've now moved Ask Larry to the best place to both answer your general questions and let you calculate your particular optimal benefit collection strategy. I pledge to answer as many questions as possible in the columns below. Please share Ask Larry on social media and consider purchasing our Maximize My Social Security program, which will show you precisely how to get everything you paid for. All my best, Larry

PS, As we are being flooded with questions, I'm also going to have Jerry Lutz, a former Technical Expert at Social Security, as well as my colleagues in the company (Mike O'Connor, our chief SS software engineer, John O'Connor, our head of customer support, and Alex Kotlikoff (my son) and Isaac Yoder, who work on all aspects of product execution and development) help me answer some of your questions. My goal is to give everyone an answer to their questions in relatively short order. As you can read from the questions I have answered, I often am advising people to use our software to figure out precisely what to do. I know the rules, but only the software can figure out cases that may involve finding the best strategy among tens of thousands to millions of alternative strategies. If you have software support questions please log into the site and enter a support ticket.

Displaying 1 - 10 of 2442 questions.

Does My Plan Sound Reasonable?

Category: Filing Strategies
Jul 27 2017 - 3:32pm

I will be retiring next year at the age of 62 and want to file for my deceased husband's social security benefits. He passed away at a young age so I know that I have paid in more to SS than he did. My plan is to wait to file for my benefits until my full retirement age of 66 & 4months. Does this sound like a reasonable plan?


It's reasonable, but not likely to be your best option. Also, the calculation of your potential widow's rate is complex, so you shouldn't assume that your widow's rate would necessarily be lower than your own retirement . . . Read More

Can My Wife Receive Divorced Spousal Benefits On Her Ex's Record?

Category: Divorced Spousal Benefits
Jul 27 2017 - 3:22pm

I am getting married soon and can not get a reliable answer to my social security question. I am considered a high wage earner age 57. My fiancé is 61 with limited earnings. She was married for 24 years and her ex has always maxed out his earnings for social security and is age 63
My question is, if we get married can she still collect a retirement benefits as a divorced spouse. Some answers I get say yes if she marries after age 62. I also believe that regardless, she could collect survivor benefits if her were to pass away.
Thank you for your help.

. . . Read More

Can I Draw Survivor Benefits On My Ex's Record If I'm Remarried?

Category: Divorced Widow(er) Benefits
Jul 27 2017 - 3:13pm

If my ex husband dies, can I collect on his social security even though I remarried. I'm 68 and draw on my own ss but it's not much. My current husbands ss is really small because he worked for the state and didn't pay in for 20 years.


You couldn't receive survivor benefits on an ex's record as long as your current marriage continues, unless your current marriage took place on or after your 60th birthday.

Best, Jerry

Can My Wife Get Her Own Benefit Plus An Excess Spousal Benefit Without Reducing My Rate?

Category: Filing Options
Jul 27 2017 - 3:02pm

Larry, My Wife will be FRA in December 2017, I will be FRA in April 2018. My WIfe's SS at FRA is $950/mo. Mine at FRA is $2700. Based on your columns, I think she can file for SS in Dec and get $950/mo. Then, in April 2018, I can file and get $2700/mo. ALSO, since the ESB is (2700 / 2) = 1350 minus her 950 = $400. She can file for ESB and get and ADDITIONAL $400 or $1350 per month starting in April 2018 WITHOUT me losing any of my $2700 / mo. benefit. Am I understanding ESB correctly?


Hi Lee,

Yes, the scenario you describe is one possible . . . Read More

Will My Wife's NY State Pension Affect Her Social Security Benefits?

Category: Miscellaneous
Jul 27 2017 - 2:40pm

My wife and I are trying to get a handle on her expected retirement income. (I am her spouse, retired, age 66.) She may retire in Feb. 2019 and would begin to draw the max. eligible pension from NY State. She will be eligible for SSA benefits at that time (2/2019) when she turns 66. Her pension is estimated to be ~ $40K/yr. Will there be any reduction/penalty to either her pension or SSA payout? Further, is there any penalty since I will also be receiving the SSA benefit? Thank you for your reply.

Hi Rick,

Your drawing Social Security . . . Read More

Should My Disability Benefits Increase Because I Divorced?

Category: Disability Benefits
Jul 27 2017 - 2:20pm

1991 my Neurologist told me I could no longer work due to me having seizure and the seizures where mainly when I worked. I filled social security disabiltiy June 1991 & I was married at that time & the money I would have received would have been around $500.00 but with my ex husband's in being so much it decreased mine. My divorce was finalized 05/16/2016 & I wanted to know and I thought my Social Security Disability would increase?
Thank you,

Hi Joanna,

Your marital status is irrelevant to the calculation of your . . . Read More

Will My Divorced Spousal Benefits Be Automatically Adjusted If My Ex Dies?

Category: Divorced Widow(er) Benefits
Jul 27 2017 - 9:55am

I am receiving ex spouse Social security benefits. I am 67, not married. I have read about ex spouse widow benefits and I have a question concerning that. Since I am not in contact with my ex, if an he passes before me, will my benefits be adjusted to the ex widows amount automatically?


Yes, since you are already drawing benefits on your ex's record, your benefit rate would automatically be adjusted upward in the event of his death.

Best, Jerry

Why Am I Not Eligible For Divorced Spousal Benefits?

Category: Divorced Spousal Benefits
Jul 27 2017 - 7:37am

I began collecting Social Security at age 62 and for nearly 4 years I've felt like I've been misled. I meet all of the requirements for receiving divorced spousal benefits as stated on the SSA website. I applied in person at a local office and was told that my own benefit is too high to receive my ex's. I am confused by this as the website states that my own benefit would be paid first then an amount from his for a total amount equal to his benefit. I don't know what he receives, but I do know that while we were married his income was about 3 times higher than mine. He waited . . . Read More

Should I File For Survivor Benefits Now?

Category: Divorced Widow(er) Benefits
Jul 26 2017 - 4:47pm

I am 60.5 yrs of age. I was married and divorced for 11.5 yrs. My ex just passed. I still work full time for the state of texas making $49K. Should I apply for deceased survivor benefits now and then when I reach retirement age see which will be higher for me to flip too?


Possibly, but your current earnings level would probably cause your most if not all of your benefits to be withheld due to Social Security's earnings test ( . . . Read More

Does My Ex Have To Wait Until I Retire To Receive Benefits On My Record?

Category: Divorced Spousal Benefits
Jul 26 2017 - 7:56am

My ex-husband is not a US citizen. I am 57 he is 63. We were married 28 years. Does he have to wait until I file for retirement to collect the spousal benefit he is due? Is he do one if he's not a citizen?


Unless you receive Social Security disability benefits, your ex-husband could not be eligible for divorced spousal benefits on your record until you are at least age 62.

Non U.S. citizens can normally draw Social Security benefits if they are living in the U.S.. If they are living outside the U.S., though, there are a number of . . . Read More