You may be eligible to collect benefits on a spouse's record. (pixabay.com)
Q. My spouse died in 1998. We were married 20 years at that point. I am 62 now. I don't know if I would qualify for any of his Social Security now or at my full retirement age. What should I do?
A. The first thing you should do it make an appointment with your local Social Security office.
You can find the location here.
We're going to explain how benefits work, but only Social Security can look at your record to see what benefits you may be due.
Social Security Retirement Benefits come in three ways: retirement benefits based on your own work record, spousal benefits based on your spouse's work record and survivor benefits based on your deceased spouse's work history
To be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, you or your spouse must have at least 40 quarters - 10 years - of work history, said Bernie Kiely, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant with Kiely Capital Management in Morristown.
"So you are eligible for survivor benefits based on your deceased spouse's work history," Kiely said. "You will also be eligible for benefits based on your own work history if you have at least 40 quarters of work history."
Generally, Social Security retirement benefits are available as early as age 62, survivor benefits are available at age 60, Kiely said.
Full retirement age is the age at which a person may first become entitled to full or unreduced benefits, he said.
"You are 62 so you probably were born in 1956. Full retirement age for someone born in 1956 is 66 years and 4 months," he said. "If you take Social Security based on you own work history or your living spouse's work history prior to your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced forever.:
If you delay your retirement benefits until after full retirement age, you may earn "delayed retirement credits" up to the age of 70, Kiely said. These delayed retirement credits will increase your ultimate retirement benefit.
Social Security has earned income limits if you receive your retirement benefits before full retirement age, he said.
"If you earn more than the earned income limits, your benefit will be reduced," he said. "If you earn enough, your benefit will be forfeited completely."
Kiely said the 2018 earnings test begins when you earn more than $17,040. For every two dollars you earn above $17,040, you forfeit one dollar in Social Security benefits, he said.
This income test applies only to earned income, which is salaries and wages, he said. It does not apply to interest, dividends or other pension or retirement income.
Once you reach your full retirement age, it does matter how much you earn, he said. You keep your full benefit.
"You are 62 now. If you earn less than $17,040, you could apply for a survivor's benefit and skip a benefit based on your work history," he said. "When you reach your full retirement age, you could drop your survivor benefit and begin receiving unreduced benefits based on your own work history if that would result in a higher benefit."
Keep in mind that the rules may be different for you if you've remarried, so be sure to talk to Social Security about your specific history.
Email your questions to Ask@NJMoneyHelp.com.
Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for NJ Advance Media and is the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Follow NJMoneyHelp on Twitter @NJMoneyHelp. Find NJMoneyHelp on Facebook. Sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com'sweekly e-newsletter.