Ask Larry

Is It True That Social Security Benefits Can Never Be Reduced?

Is it true that SS benefits paid to a person cannot ever decrease? Both my now-wife and I were receiving divorced-spousal benefits before we married. After we married, we have both continued to receive these under the POMS RS 00202.045 exception. My wife turns 70 four months before I do and will switch to her own SS retirement benefit at that time, which will have accrued DRCs. I assume that once she files for her own benefits, that the POMs exception will no longer apply and that I will need to concurrently switch from ex-spousal benefits to current spousal benefits for the four interim months before filing for my own SS retirement benefit that will also have accrued DLCs. However, I believe my ex-spousal benefits are higher than my current spousal benefits would be even at 70, though I'm not positive since my wife worked full-time 2 more years after reaching her full SS retirement age of 66. I just estimated from what it last showed when she turned 66. Her online SS statement no longer indicates what her own PIA or age 70 benefit would be once she started receiving ex-spousal benefits. Someone told me that SS benefits never go down, that I would continue to receive the higher ex-spousal benefit until I switched to my own even higher benefit at 70. Is this correct? What would happen if I concurrently filed for spousal benefits when she files for her own benefits versus if I didn't do anything for those four months before I hit 70? I don't want to do anything illegal, but don't really understand the nuances of the rules. And I certainly wouldn't want to deal with any overpayments. I believe she has an option of filing several months before she turns 66 and telling them not to start it until her age 70 birthday month, which might give us time to learn what her new benefit amount would be. Maybe I could wait until after she receives her first retirement payment and then file ex-spousal retroactive to her birthday month. Is that allowed or would I lose money waiting that long? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks. Jerry was very helpful with an earlier question.


There's not really a guarantee that Social Security benefits can't be reduced, but that rarely occurs. It's more common for benefits to be terminated altogether, as in the case of a divorced spouse who remarries.

Your divorced spousal benefits won't terminate if and when your now wife switches to retirement benefits on her own record, though. The exception referred to in the Social Security operations manual (POMS) section you cited doesn't end if one of you later stops drawing divorced spousal benefits. To meet the exception, your new spouse simply needs to be drawing one of the benefit types listed AT THE TIME OF YOUR MARRIAGE. Therefore, if you and your new wife were both drawing divorced spousal benefits at the time of your marriage you could both continue to receive those benefits indefinitely.

The best option for both you and your wife may be to keep drawing divorced spousal benefits until age 70, at which time you could each switch to drawing your own retirement benefits. However, I can't say for sure without more information. You and your wife have many other potential filing options available to you, so you should strongly consider using our maximization software to make sure that you are choosing the best possible strategy.

Best, Jerry

Jun 30 2018 - 5:29pm
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