Q: I am on disability. My husband is having his Social Security check and retirement checks deposited directly to his account. He has been saying he is going to leave. We are still married, and if he leaves, he doesn't want a divorce. Can I draw off his Social Security and be able to get any of his retirement benefit? I just don't trust him anymore. I don't know what he is going to do next! He also is sending all his income stubs to a post office box! -- Becky
A. I am so sorry to hear about your situation. I can't begin to imagine how hard things must be for you amidst all the uncertainty. Your husband is supposed to be your best friend and partner, not someone you can't trust and who may ruin your life.
First, you need to fight fire with a little bit of your own! Open your own checking account. Have your disability payments sent there.
If you feel things are close to rock bottom, consider getting an attorney to help you protect your interests. I realize this will be expensive, but not having legal advice will cost you far more in the long run.
The good news is that you may be able to receive Social Security benefits based on your husband's earning record. When your husband filed for his retirement benefits, his action entitled you file for your own spousal benefit, which you're eligible to collect starting at age 62. If you do file at 62, your payment will be reduced from its maximum amount, which is available if you claim at full retirement age (FRA)—that's age 66 right now. Normal retirement benefits increase until at age 70 but spousal benefits max out at FRA.
How large a payment can you receive? At their maximum, spousal benefits equal half of what your husband's own retirement benefits would be at his own FRA. Even if he has filed for his own retirement early, your spousal benefits are still pegged to what your husband would have received if he had waited till FRA.
Since you are already receiving disability payments, however, that will limit the amount of additional payment your receive through the spousal benefit—you don't get the full amount of both benefits. (Disability payments convert into a regular retirement benefit at FRA, but the amount remains the same.) If your spousal benefit is greater than your disability benefit, you'll receive the excess amount on top of the disability payment.
But it your disability payment is the larger of the two, you would collect no additional payment, and there really is no reason to file for a spousal benefit. But if you're younger than FRA, check to see what the payment would be when you reach full retirement age. The increase might make it worthwhile to wait until then to file your claim.
To file for a spousal benefit, call your local Social Security office and make an appointment. Even if your husband will not disclose his FRA payment, the agency must look this up for you when you file for a spousal benefit.
Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging, and health. He is co-author of the recently updated New York Times bestseller, “Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” His companion book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare: Maximize Your Coverage; Minimize Your Costs,” will be published this fall. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.