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a Wife Work to Get Her Own Social Security?
Q: I am 60 years old. I have
a 45-year-old wife who has never worked during the 20 years
that we have been married. She did work for a while before
our marriage, and has 10 Social Security credits. Is there
any advantage to her working to earn the extra 30 credits she
needs to qualify for her own Social Security?
A: Before I answer your question from a Social Security perspective, I’d
be remiss if I didn’t point out that we need to consider your wife’s
feelings about this. Does she want to get out of the house? Does she want to
work? Does she want to have her own income? These are obviously important questions
only she can answer.
Looking at the matter only through my Social Security glasses, I’m going
to give you a blurry answer. Is it worth it for your wife to work? Maybe yes.
And maybe no.
Part of that wishy-washy response depends on if she was planning to work just
until she gets her 40 credits. If that is the case, then the answer probably
is “no.” The key thing you need to understand about Social Security
is that whenever a woman is due two Social Security benefits (for example, her
own retirement benefit or a wife’s benefit on her husband’s account),
she will generally get only the one that pays the higher rate. So, even if she
earns her own benefit, it will probably be so small that she would always get
a higher rate on your record anyway. Or to put that another way, even if she
never works again, she will get the same Social Security benefit (a wife’s
rate on your record) that she would get even if she did work.
But she is only 45. If she was thinking of working until maybe age 65 or so,
then she would probably build up enough earnings so that her own retirement benefit
would exceed what she is due as a wife on your record. So that would be an argument
for her to get out there and work.
However, if you were planning to die someday, that throws another factor into
the equation! Even if she worked for the next 20 years, she probably would never
make enough to exceed what she would be due as a widow on your account. In other
words, her widow’s benefit would always be higher than what she would be
due on her own record. So that’s another argument for her not to work.
But now I have to get wishy-washy again because there is a flip side to that
argument. Widows who have their own Social Security account have an option they
sometimes can use. They can take reduced benefits on one record and later switch
to higher benefits on another record. For example, if you die when your wife
is 62, let’s say, and if she has her 40 credits, she could get reduced
retirement benefits on her record and then at age 66, switch to 100 percent benefits
on your record.
Another possible advantage to her having her own Social Security record is the
potential for disability benefits. If she became disabled tomorrow, she couldn’t
get a nickel from Social Security. But if she has her 40 credits, and then became
disabled before retirement age, she could get monthly Social Security disability
checks. Those can be potentially valuable benefits.
As you see, there are advantages to your wife working and getting the 40 credits.
On the other hand, it may not be worth the effort. So as I said at the beginning,
let’s ask your wife what she wants to do.
Q: I am 58 years old. I have worked all my life (almost 40 years)
high-paying job. I recently retired. I’m thinking of taking a teaching
job for the next 5 years or so. But here is the catch: The teaching job is in
California, where teachers do not pay into Social Security. I have been told
that if I take that job, I will jeopardize my future Social Security benefits
in two ways: 1) My own Social Security benefit will be reduced because of the
small teacher’s pension I will get; and 2) I will never be able to get
any survivor’s benefits from my wife’s Social Security account, if
she predeceases me. What can you tell me about this?
A: I can tell you to take the teaching job. You will not mess up your Social
Security benefits in any way. Those who warned you not to take the job were thinking
about a couple of pension offsets that will not impact you.
One of those offsets is called the Windfall Elimination Provision. It will reduce
Social Security benefits for folks who spend the bulk of their careers in jobs
not covered by Social Security, but have worked enough under Social Security
to qualify for some benefits. But you did just the opposite. You spent the bulk
of your career in a job that was covered by Social Security. And the law says
that if you have 30 years of “substantial” Social Security earnings,
the WEP will not apply to you.
The other offset, called the Government Pension Offset, could eliminate benefits
you are due on a spouse’s record. But here is the point: Your own Social
Security benefit already prevents you from getting anything on your wife’s
account. So if you end up with a small teacher’s pension, it won’t
I’ve heard from a couple readers who reported that they received a call
supposedly from the government informing them that a new Social Security card
was being mailed to them. The scam artist then asked for the person’s address,
Social Security number and bank account number. Both readers I heard from wisely
terminated the call then and there. This is so obviously a scam that I don’t
think anyone would fall for it. But you never know. So consider yourselves forewarned!
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