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 5867 questions.

Why Can't I Receive Anything From My Husband's Record If My Earnings Were Higher Than His?

Category: Survivor Benefits
Jan 20 2020 - 1:50pm

Im receivibg my soc sec for what I worked but never received a penny from my husband sec after he died. They told me that if my earnings were higher I would not qualify for his. How come?


I'm sorry for your loss.

The simple fact is that if you apply for more than one type of Social Security benefit (e.g. retirement and spousal, retirement and survivor), you can only be paid what amounts to the higher of the 2 benefit rates. So, if you're already drawing your own Social Security retirement benefits and your spouse dies, you can only receive . . . Read More

Am I Entitled To Some Benefits If My Ex-Husband Is On Disability?

Category: Divorced Spousal Benefits
Jan 20 2020 - 7:52am

My ex husband has been on disability for 18 years. We were married for 12. Am I entitled to some benefits also?


Possibly, but in order to qualify for divorced spousal benefits you'd need to a) be unmarried and b) either be at least age 62 or have a child in your care who is eligible for child's benefits on your ex's record and who is disabled or under age 16.

Best, Jerry

Can I Potentially Start, Stop, And Restart My Benefits More Than Once?

Category: Start-Stop-Start Strategy
Jan 19 2020 - 5:29pm

Start Stop and Start Strategy: I am single turning 66 in 2020. I am full time employed earning 75,000 a year gross. I have 18,000 worth of credit card debt. Every month I pay close to $800 in Visa payments and can't seem to get ahead. I was unemployed for awhile and thus the huge credit card debt. I plan to work until 70. 1) Does it make sense to start claiming my social security payments to pay of the debt? Once paid, I would like to stop/suspend my social security benefits until I am 70 to let them grow with delayed retirement credits. 2) If I lose my job again, can I start . . . Read More

Can I Take My Own Social Security Benefits Now And Then Switch To Half Of My Husband's Benefit When He Files?

Category: Filing Options
Jan 19 2020 - 12:04pm

I am 62 & my husband is 68. He plans to delay taking social security until he is 70. Can I take social security now based on my own earnings & then switch to taking half of my husband's benefit (based on his earnings) when he begins taking social security benefits at age 70? Is my benefit then based on what his benefit would have been at his full retirement age (66) or what he will get by waiting until he is 70?


No. You can never switch to drawing just a spousal benefit after you've started drawing your own benefits. And, if you start . . . Read More

Is My Assumption About My Wife's Spousal Rate Wrong?

Category: Spousal Benefits
Jan 19 2020 - 11:55am

In 2019 (age 71) I received SS benefits totaling $42,558. My wife (age 69) received SS benefits totaling $17,154. Over the years she earned far less than I did, so we filed for her to receive SS benefits based on my earnings. I understood she would receive 50% of my benefits. If this is correct, she should have received SS benefits in 2019 totaling $21,279. Is my assumption wrong?


Sorry, but yes your assumption is wrong. Your wife's maximum spousal benefit rate would be equal to 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA), not 50% of your age 70 . . . Read More

Will My Social Security Benefits Be Affected If I Receive A Survivor Pension From The Post Office?

Category: Non-Covered Pension - WEP / GPO
Jan 19 2020 - 11:28am

I'm 69 years old and started drawing my own full social security at 67 .I worked for 30 + years . My wife is going to retire from the post office and put me down for a survivor annuity . Up on her death will my own social security, or the survivor benefit from her post office retirement be affected by the windfall act, or wep act?


No. In order for either WEP (Windfall Elimination Provision) or GPO (Government Pension Offset) to apply, the pension involved must be based on your OWN earnings that were exempt from Social Security taxes. Any pension . . . Read More

Can I File For My Own Benefits At Age 67 And Switch To Spousal Benefits When My Husband Applies For His Benefits?

Category: Filing Options
Jan 19 2020 - 11:04am

I will be 67 in February 2020. My husband will be 70 in May 2021. He did not file and suspend in 2016. My SS benefits at 70 will be less than half of my husbands full benefit. After reading your book, I believe should take Spousal benefits when he files for SS benefits at 70. My question is: Can I file for my SS benefits in February of this year and switch to Spousal benefits when my husband applies for benefits at 70? Will I be stuck receiving my lower benefit for the rest of my life and denied spousal benefits later?


You couldn't actually switch . . . Read More

Will I Pay A Penalty Fee If I Cash Out My 401k?

Category: Disability Benefits
Jan 18 2020 - 3:35pm

I was just approved for SSDI and will begin receiving payments in April of 2020. Can I cash out my 401 K now, before I start receiving payments and if so will I pay a penalty fee? I am 54 years of age.


My expertise is limited to Social Security benefits, so I can't tell you whether or not you'd have to pay a penalty for cashing out your 401k. What I can tell you is that regardless of anything you do with your 401k, it would have no effect on your Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits.

Best, Jerry

Will My Wife Receive My Higher Benefit If I Die Before Her?

Category: Survivor Benefits
Jan 18 2020 - 3:21pm

Hi Larry, my question is My Wife and I are both 62 and disabled. My Wife worked for 40 years before becoming disabled and Me as well. And my question is if I die before my wife does what will she draw a month? My disabilty is more then hers is a month, so will she just draw mine because it’s more or what will she draw?


I'm assuming from your description that both you and your wife are currently receiving Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits. In that case the answer is yes, as long as your wife is at least full retirement age (FRA) she would . . . Read More

How Much Am I Allowed To Earn If I Collect Survivor Benefits?

Category: Earnings Test
Jan 18 2020 - 10:55am

I am 65 years old and collect survivor benefits I was wondering how much I am allowed to make working at my job while collecting these benefits. I know if I was collecting Social Security at this age I would only be allowed to make $17,040 per year but I couldn’t seem to find out if there is a difference between these two benefits and how much I can make


The same earnings test limits apply to all types of Social Security benefits, including survivor benefits. Assuming that you won't reach age 66 before the end of 2020, the amount that you could . . . Read More