Have My Wife And I Been Underpaid?

Apr 5 2017 - 7:15am

My wife and I are 77 and 78, respectively. We believe we have been underpaid for over 12 years. We both individually qualify for SS benefits. This is all historical and I have everything (?) in an Excel spreadsheet that I would be more than willing to share with you or one of your associates. In 2002, my wife filed and began receiving reduced benefits on her account. Her full retirement benefits would have been available in October 2005 (65+6 mos). I did not apply for any benefits on her account or mine until my full retirement date which was August 2004. On multiple occasions, we asked about whether we were receiving all that was available to us and we were assured we were. I have since come to believe that beginning with my first payment in September 2004, she should have been receiving a full spousal benefit on my account which was higher than what she was receiving as a reduced benefit as the primary beneficiary on her account. My spreadsheet shows her benefits have been underpaid by some $34,000.00. Upon further review, I'm wondering if I could have been drawing a spousal benefit against her initial benefits from June 2002 through my full retirement benefit date of August 2004. If so, I would have been underpaid some $9,200.00, also reflected on my spreadsheet. In January 2016, she filed a claim for her "corrected" benefit which was denied. We then filed a Request For Reconsideration on February 5, 2016, and, despite various attempts, have been unable to get a response after over one year. Matter-of-fact, as I type this, I am waiting for a call back from an "SS supervisor" that an agent I spoke to today told me would call me back. After seeing reference to your book in the AARP article by Jane Bryant Quinn, I rushed to buy "Get What's Yours" on Amazon and am reading it carefully (I've only covered the first 1/3 but I can report to you that I've stirred up a bunch of interest in it among my peers! - why isn't it emphasized that each person has a separate account and a separate set of benefits for each account? Maybe you do in the book but I just haven't noticed it yet.).

If you would have any interest in using my personal experience here in any of your writings or presentations, I would offer whatever I can offer you gratis.


You could not have filed for spousal benefits on your wife's record prior to full retirement age without also applying for reduced retirement benefits on your own record. So, assuming that you filed for your own retirement benefits at full retirement age or sooner, it sounds like you did not miss out on any spousal benefits.

With regard to your wife's benefit rate, hopefully you are accounting for the fact that any reduction in rates that she took on her own record continues, even if she later becomes entitled to spousal benefits. Let me explain with an example:

Jill is eligible for a full retirement age benefit rate (PIA) of $800, but she starts drawing at age 62 instead and receives a reduced rate of $600. When Jill is full retirement age, her husband Jack files for his retirement benefits and Jill files for spousal benefits on his record. Jack's PIA is $2000. Jill's spousal benefit rate is calculated by subtracting her PIA from 50% of Jack's PIA, giving her a spousal benefit amount of $200 (i.e. $2000/2 - $800). This spousal benefit is then added to Jill's reduced retirement benefit of $600, making her combined benefit rate $800. In other words, because she chose to take her own benefits early, Jill does not get a full 50% of Jack's PIA.

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Best, Jerry