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Will I Lose Benefits If I Don’t Finish The Online Social Security Application I Started?

Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about whether you can lose benefits if you begin but don’t finish an online application, when continuing income does and does not increase benefit rates and survivor benefits with multiple exes. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Will I Lose Benefits If I Don’t Finish The Online Social Security Application I Started?

Hi Larry, I have an unfinished application that I have no interest in submitting now. The SSA says I will lose benefits if I don’t complete the application by August. That doesn’t make any sense that I would lose my benefits. It this the true? Thanks, Howard

Hi Howard, It sounds like what you received is a six month closeout notice. If so, it doesn’t mean you’ll lose your benefits if you don’t complete the application you left unfinished. It just means that you’ll need to start over with a new application when you do decide to claim your benefits.

You’d still be free to apply for benefits any time that you want to, and your benefit rate won’t be adversely affected by the fact that you didn’t follow through with the previous application that you started. The only potential adverse effect would involve the date you could start drawing your benefits.

For example, say Bill is age 63 and he establishes a protective filing date on October 15th 2021. Bill could then elect to start his benefits effective with as early as the month of October 2021.

However, if Bill doesn’t finish his application within the 6 months allotted by his closeout notice, then he would no longer have the option of starting his benefits as early as October 2021. But, Bill would still be free to file an application anytime thereafter and start his benefits as early as the month he applies.

When a person starts an online application, it establishes a protective filing date. That protective filing date would continue indefinitely until Social Security either issues a closeout notice or makes a determination on the person’s eligibility.

And since Social Security doesn’t have all of the information that they need to make a final determination when a person’s application is unfinished, they must issue a closeout notice so that the protective filing date doesn’t go on forever. In other words, the purpose of a closeout notice is simply to inform a person who has established a protective filing date that that date will no longer be protective as of the date specified in the notice.

Keep in mind that I don’t have full access to all of your records, so you might want to call Social Security to discuss this issue with them. You may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to ensure your household receives the highest lifetime benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Why Isn’t My Check Increasing If I’m Still Working And Paying Into Social Security?

Hi Larry, I’m collecting and still working and so paying into Social Security. Shouldn’t my benefit increase since I’m still working? I was always told it would but I see no increase in my check. Shouldn’t I? Thanks, Chuck

Hi Chuck, Social Security retirement benefits are based on an average of a person’s highest 35 years of Social Security covered wage-indexed earnings, so additional years of earnings only increase a person’s benefit rate if they’re higher than one or more of the 35 years currently being used to calculate the person’s benefit rate.

Without access to your full Social Security covered earnings history I have no way of knowing whether or not your recent earnings were high enough to increase your benefit rate.

However, you can submit a written and signed request to Social Security requesting a benefit recomputation if you believe that your recent earnings were high enough to make you eligible for a higher rate. Best, Larry

If My Husband Dies Before We’ve Been Married For Ten Years, Do I Receive His Benefits Or Does His Former Wife?

Hi Larry, I divorced in 2014 after we separated in 2012. We were married for 14 years prior to the separation. I would like to remarry. My boyfriend was also previously married for over 14 years.

He is currently 62, working and not collecting Social Security. I am 51, working and not collecting Social Security either.

If we marry and he dies before us being married for at least 10 years, do I receive widow’s benefits or does his former wife? Thanks, Kim

Hi Kim, You only need to be married for nine months in order to potentially be eligible for widow(er)’s benefits if your current spouse dies. The 10 year marriage requirement applies to divorced spousal and surviving divorced spousal benefits.

So assuming you get married and your new spouse dies after you’ve been married for at least nine months, you could potentially qualify for widow’s benefits regardless of whether or not your husband’s ex is eligible for benefits on his record. The entitlement of a former spouse to divorced spousal or surviving divorced spousal benefits has no adverse effect on a widow(er)’s eligibility for benefits, nor the amount of their benefit.

Just so you know though, if you get remarried before you 60, you won’t be able to qualify for benefits from your ex’s account for as long as your current marriage is continuing. Best, Larry

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