Can I Draw My Own Totalized Social Security Benefits And Claim Spousal Benefits?

May 12 2020 - 1:57pm

I am 62 and eligible for the regular German retirement pension when I turn 66. It will be limited as I didn't pay in since spring 2003, when I moved to the US. I am a US citizen now. My American husband retired from the military and will from his civilian job in a few years. Can I draw my own totalized social security (absolutely minor US credits) and claim spousal US social security? Will the spousal benefits be reduced? Is there a threshold til which I am allowed to claim both?

Hi,

You could only receive a totalization benefit from the U.S. if you have at least 6 and fewer than 40 quarters of Social Security coverage (QC). If you have at least 40 QCs you'll qualify for regular Social Security retirement benefits, but your benefit rate will likely be reduced due to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). However, any WEP reduction applied to your benefit rate wouldn't start until you actually start receiving a pension based on your earnings that weren't subject to U.S. Social Security taxes, such as your German pension.

If what you receive is a totalization benefit, though, no WEP reduction would apply. But, a completely different benefit computation formula is used to compute totalization benefits as opposed to the formula used to calculate regular Social Security retirement benefits. And, regardless of the computation method used, your benefit rate will be reduced for age if you start drawing prior to your full retirement age (FRA).

You couldn't be eligible to collect spousal benefits at least until your husband starts drawing his benefits. And, you'll only be eligible for spousal benefits if 50% of your husband's primary insurance amount (PIA) is more than your own PIA. A person's PIA is equal to the amount of their Social Security retirement benefit if they start drawing at FRA. If you do qualify for spousal benefits, though, those benefits would not be reduced by either WEP nor the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision. WEP can only apply to Social Security retirement or disability benefits based on a person's own earnings history, and foreign pensions are excluded from counting as a government pension for purposes of the GPO provision.

Our software (https://maximizemysocialsecurity.com/purchase) can handle computations involving both the WEP and GPO provisions, although it does not compute totalization benefits. You and your husband may want to strongly consider using our software to determine your best strategy for maximizing your benefits.

Best, Jerry