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  • Writer's pictureChris Stein, CFP®

Social Security Disability Benefits & Claiming Spousal Benefits

A reader receiving SSDI looks for clarification on collecting spousal Social Security benefits.

“Hi, my husband is currently 65, and I turned 64 this year. He was born in December 1955, and I was born in April 1957. I'm now on SSDI. My question is: when I reach my Full Retirement Age (at age 66 and 8 months), will my Social Security monthly amount stay the same? And can I collect spousal benefits on my husband's Social Security, as he will be 67 and collecting retirement benefits at that time? If so, will I be able to collect 50% of his monthly Social Security payment in a spousal benefit?”

For those unfamiliar with the term, "SSDI" is Social Security Disability Insurance. You have been deemed disabled by the Social Security system and are receiving a benefit under that program. Your SSDI benefit was set as though you had reached Full Retirement Age (FRA), the age when you qualify for 100% of the benefit that Social Security would calculate from your lifetime earnings.

Before I address your questions, I want to point out that your FRA is actually 66 years and 6 months, instead of 66 years and 8 months, since you were born in 1957. Before Social Security started increasing the FRA, it was set at age 66. Then, for those born in 1955 and later, two months were added for each year. For example, 1955 is 66+2, 1956 is 66+4 and 1957 is 66+6. This annual increase continues through those born in 1960, and their FRA will be age 67.

Now, on to your questions. The Social Security Disability Insurance program is set up so that when you reach your FRA, you are automatically disenrolled from the disability program and enrolled in your retirement benefit. The benefit amounts should be the same. If they're not, they will be within a few dollars of each other. For some strange reason, sometimes the amounts of the FRA retirement benefit that you may transition to and your disability benefit are a few dollars different. (I've never found a documented explanation of why that would be.)

As you are married, you would potentially have access to a spousal benefit. The first trigger is that your spouse must be claiming his retirement benefit. You say he will have claimed by that time, so the spousal benefit is available to you. But Social Security will look at your retirement benefit versus the spousal benefit and effectively only pay you one or the other. You do not get both.

Here is how Social Security calculates the payment: it will only award you a "spousal offset" – or a bump in your benefit – if half of your spouse's FRA benefit is larger than 100% of your own benefit. That doesn’t happen in many cases, but it can. If it does, Social Security will pay your own benefit first, then top you up by paying you an offset to reach half of your spouse's FRA benefit.

In your note, it almost sounded like you were asking if you would get your own benefit, plus half of his. You'll only get the overall equivalent of half of his if it's bigger than your own. Since I don't have any dollar figures, I can't say for sure how it will play out. But given my answer, you should be able to determine if you're eligible for a spousal bump-up or not.

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