Why Can't I Collect My Own Benefits If I'm Drawing Spousal Benefits?

Sep 14 2020 - 7:49am

Larry, I was told by the ss admin, that I could not receive my spousal retirement and my own retirement simultaneously....or ever. This seems to me to be like theft. I was told that although, I am eligible for both, I would have to choose the larger amount. My thing is if I am eligible for both, how is social security legally withholding my retirement benefits that I paid in on. I receive my spousal retirement, but not my own....and that just isnt fair anyway I look at it.


It sounds like what you were told by Social Security is basically correct. You aren't allowed to draw more than one full Social Security benefit at the same time. Don't blame Social Security for that, though. They are just following the regulations that were passed into law by Congress, and only Congress has the authority to enact and amend Social Security laws. Complaints about the Social Security law would best be directed to your representatives in Congress.

People eligible for both Social Security spousal benefits and their own Social Security retirement benefits aren't permitted to apply for just one of those benefits unless they a) were born before January 2 1954 and they file for benefits at full retirement age (FRA) or later, or b) they are eligible for spousal benefits based on having an eligible child in their care. Otherwise, people eligible for both retirement and spousal benefits are deemed to be filing for both benefits if they apply for either benefit, and they can basically only be paid the higher of the two benefit rates.

If a person files for both their own Social Security retirement benefits and another type of benefit, like spousal benefits, Social Security always pays the person's own benefit first. If the other benefit is higher than the person's own benefit, they are then paid a partial benefit in addition to their own benefit. That partial rate basically just amounts to the difference in the higher and lower benefit rate, though, so the person essentially just ends up receiving a the higher benefit rate.

For example, say Ray files for Social Security benefits at full retirement age (FRA). Ray's is then paid 100% of his primary insurance amount (PIA), which in Ray's case is $800. Ray's wife is drawing her benefits, and her PIA is $2000. Since Ray was born after January 1 1954, he is deemed to be filing for both his own benefits and for spousal benefits. Ray would then be paid his own benefit rate plus a partial spousal benefit equal to the difference between 50% of his wife's PIA and his own PIA. In Ray's case, that amounts to $200 (i.e. $2000/2 - $800). Thus, Ray ends up being paid a combined amount of $1000 (i.e. $800 + $200), or 50% of his wife's PIA.

Best, Jerry