Ask Larry

Laurence Kotlikoff Professor of Economics, Boston University and President of Economic Security Planning, Inc.
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 software 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 11 - 20 of 4691 questions.

Does The Fact That My Wife And I Are Raising Grandchildren Affect Our Benefits?

Category: Miscellaneous
Dec 12 2018 - 9:57am

I am 74 and my wife is 69 - both of us are receiving social security benefits. We also have been raising our two grandchildren and I wonder if that affects benefits. Please advise! Thanks, Gary

Hi Gary,

The fact that you're raising grandchildren wouldn't have any effect on your or your wife's Social Security benefits. Grandchildren can qualify for Social Security child's benefits on a grandparent's record in some cases, but only if both of the grandchild's natural parents are deceased or disabled, or if the grandchild is adopted by the grandparent. . . . Read More

Will I Be Forced To Apply For Benefits When My Wife Files?

Category: Deeming
Dec 12 2018 - 9:28am

Hi Larry: My wife is 8 months older than I and she will be applying for her own benefit in 2020 (not spousal) on January 24 when she turns 66. Regarding deeming, will I be forced to apply as well because she applied on her own record? I have your great book but am confused about this deeming thing. My plan is to wait until age 70 to apply on my own record, but, like your book says, don't trust everything the folks at Social Security tell us. Thanks in advance for your help.


No. Regardless of when your wife files for her benefits it won't have any . . . Read More

Can I File A Restricted Application Now?

Category: Filing Options
Dec 11 2018 - 9:29am

I am confused regarding restricted application. I am retired and 67, and planning to defer my social security til 70. My wife is 61 and still working. Can i file for restricted application now? Or would i have to wait til my wife reaches full retirement age (66.5), or even 62? Or not eligible at all?


Filing a restricted application refers to the process of applying for one type of Social Security benefit without also applying for other types of benefits. This is necessary in certain circumstances because most Social Security application forms are . . . Read More

How Do I Know If I Got Credit For My Army Service On My Social Security Benefit?

Category: Deemed Military Wages
Dec 10 2018 - 11:33am

How do I know if I got credit for my Service in the Army (1967-1969 Vietnam) on my Social Security Benefit?


There's really no simple way to verify that you received credit for your military service. What you should have received credit for are deemed military wages (DMW) in addition to your actual military wages for the periods of time that you served on active duty ( The combined amount is then . . . Read More

Does My Plan Sound Crazy?

Category: Filing Strategies
Dec 10 2018 - 7:22am


my husband started collecting social security last spring at 66 (his full retirement age) and we got married last month. He's 17 years older than I. And I am wondering if it makes sense for me to pay my husband to stop his benefits and pay back what he got and pay him myself what he would have collected, so that he when 70 can get his highest benefits - and therefor me when I reach my full retirement age - 67 (I was always a low earner). I've heard about a resent study that suggests this might be a good idea, and I have an inheritance to cover this.

So does . . . Read More

How Can I Get Social Security To Process My Payments?

Category: Filing For Benefits
Dec 10 2018 - 6:53am

Dear Larry,
I filed for SS at a local office when turned 65, but was denied as the clerk was unaware that my 20+ years of work in Canada can be added to my 6 US credits. I filed an appeal online, but was ignored even though I got a confirmation that it was received. Then I sent another appeal with all the paperwork to a PO Box in Maryland. Once again, no reply. It has been 3 years since I was supposed to get my SS. How can I get them to reply and process my payments? The phone contact is beyond dysfunctional.
Thank you


When you say . . . Read More

Will My Benefits Off Of My Ex-Husband Be Reduced If I Start Drawing At Age 62?

Category: Divorced Spousal Benefits
Dec 9 2018 - 5:51pm

My exhusband will be 66 which is his full retirement age in a year and a half. I was wanting to draw off him at 62 . Will I get reduced benefits off him because I wont be at 66 and 10 months?


Yes, if you start drawing divorced spousal benefits any time prior to your full retirement age (FRA) your benefit rate will be reduced for age. Furthermore, whenever you file for divorced spousal benefits you'll be deemed to also be filing for your own retirement benefits if you have enough work credits to qualify for those benefits. In that case you'll . . . Read More

Will I Automatically Start Drawing My Own Higher Benefits When I Turn Age 70?

Category: Filing Options
Dec 9 2018 - 10:03am

I filed for social security at age 66 but deferred receiving benefits and instead received spousal benefits for a couple of years. When my husband died last year, I was automatically switched to survivor's benefits.

I want to receive benefits on my own record when I turn 70 in a year, since these will be higher than the survivor's benefits. My question is whether this will happen automatically, or if I have to do something.


I'm sorry for your loss.

No, you won't automatically be switched to your own record when you reach age 70. . . . Read More

Am I Getting Benefits Illegally?

Category: Supplemental Security Income
Dec 9 2018 - 9:40am

I'm in serious trouble. I was in the hospital and forced to sign many, many unfilled-out forms. I'm on SSDI because I earned it and needed it. But now I have MASSHEALTH! Illegally! I own my condo! Now I got a letter that I have been switched to SSI! My monthly payment is now reduced, I'm not getting money to pay my mortgage December 12th, and I've been tricked into getting MASSHEALTH by the hospital! Medicare only pays 80%, and I have a $26,000.00 bill from 15 days in August-Sept hospitalization, and so the Hospital forced me to sign pages and pages of blank, bogus forms so . . . Read More

Will I Receive A Higher Benefit Amount When My Ex-Spouse Dies?

Category: Divorced Widow(er) Benefits
Dec 7 2018 - 12:05pm

I had been drawing off of my ex spouse's benefits; when I reached age 70 I started to draw from my own. When my ex spouse dies will I receive a higher amount and will that change automatically or do I have to apply for it. I have not been in contact with him for 20 years and would not know if he were to die.


If your ex-spouse's benefit rate is higher than your own benefit rate, it sounds like you'd be eligible for his or her higher rate as a survivor. You'd only get the higher of his rate or your rate, however, not both.

Your divorced . . . Read More