Q&A: Social Security spousal benefits and divorce

Dear Liz: My former husband is 11 years older than I, and we were married for 15 years. I am 54 and have not remarried.

When I turn 62, can I claim a spousal benefit based on his Social Security record because he’s already reached full retirement? Or do I have to be at my own full retirement age of 67 before I can claim the divorced benefit?

I was thinking that I could start claiming a spousal benefit at 62 and then wait until I am 70 to see which benefit is larger — half of his or mine with three years of 8% annual delayed retirement credits added in. If mine is more at that point, I could switch.

Is that possible or is that double dipping? He has made much more money than I have through the years, but he has also been unemployed off and on. I have made less money, but have been employed consistently throughout my life, so I’m not sure whose will be more when it all shakes out.

Answer: If you start spousal benefits or divorced spousal benefits early, your check will be permanently reduced and you’ll lose the option to switch later — even if your own benefit would have been larger.

When you apply for Social Security benefits before your full retirement age, you’ll be “deemed” to be applying for both your own benefit and any spousal benefits to which you’re entitled. If your spousal benefit is larger, you’ll be given your own benefit plus an amount to make up the difference. Once you start your benefit, it stops growing except for cost-of-living increases.

It’s only if you wait until your full retirement age to file that you have the option of filing a “restricted” application for spousal benefits only. Then you’ll preserve the option of switching to your own benefit later if it’s larger.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

imagesToday’s top story: How some of your back-to-school expenses could be tax deductible. Also in the news: Paying taxes on free credit monitoring, money saving tips for when you’re earning minimum wage, and ten financial vocabulary terms you absolutely need to know.

Some Back-to-School Expenses Could Be Tax-Deductible
Back-to-school expenses could be a little less painful.

Data Breach Victims: Will You Have to Pay Taxes on Free Credit Monitoring?
Double the insult?

3 Money-Saving Tips When You’re Earning Minimum Wage
Making your money last longer.

10 financial vocabulary terms you should know
There will be a quiz!

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: The increase in identity theft makes checking your credit an absolute necessity. Also in the news: How to prepare your college freshman for financial realities, how to pay off your debt for good, and five ways small businesses can get the most out of their credit cards.

Another Reason You Really Need to Remember to Check Your Credit
Staying on top of your credit is absolutely vital.

How to Prepare Your Child for the Financial Realities of Freshman Year
Better get used to ramen, kid.

Step-By-Step Guide: How To Pay Off Debt For Good
Could this method work for you?

Small-Business Credit Card Basics: 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Card
Always paying on time is key.

Review and Improve Your Budget With These Three Questions
Using your money on what truly matters most.

The minus side of PLUS loans

Student-LoansParent education loans can help your child attend the college of her dreams — and sink any dreams you had of ever retiring.

The grim reality is that the federal PLUS loan program allows parents to borrow far more than they can comfortably, or even ever, repay.

In my column for Reuters, I explain why the easy lending practices of PLUS loans can lead to a lifetime of debt.

In DailyWorth, I do a little mythbusting of “good” credit habits that are actually bad for you.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

law-technology-podcasts-300x300Today’s top story: Seven money podcasts you should be tuning in to. Also in the news: Why your parents’ financial advisor keeps asking about you, how small business owners can prepare for an interest rate hike, and a guide to debit vs credit cards.

7 Money Podcasts You Should Be Following
Making your commute more enjoyable and profitable!

Why Your Parents’ Financial Advisor Asks About You
A different kind of inheritance.

3 Ways Small-Business Owners Can Prepare for an Interest Rate Hike
The days of zero percent interest rates could be coming to an end.

A Simple Guide to Debit vs. Credit Cards
Which is best for you?

Want to Get Out of Debt? Study Finds Best Way to Do It
Where should you start?

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

mortgage2Today’s top story: Common mortgage roadblocks and how to fix them. Also in the news: How to make your retirement nest egg last longer, why you should try haggling when renting an apartment, and ten back-to-school supplies that teachers say are a waste of money.

4 Common Mortgage Killers & How to Survive Them
Common roadblocks and how to fix them.

Dreaming of Early Retirement? Make Your Nest Egg Last Longer
Retiring a decade early? It could be done.

Why you should always try to haggle when renting an apartment.
It’s rare, but possible!

Teachers Say Don’t Waste Money On These 10 Back-To-School Supplies
Don’t overspend.

Being a Bridesmaid or Groomsman With No Financial Regrets
How to celebrate a big day without the big expenses.

Q&A: IRA contributions and tax deductions

Dear Liz: I am changing jobs because of a layoff. I contributed to my former employer’s 401(k) to the extent possible. My new employer also offers a 401(k), but I won’t be eligible for a year.

I want to use an IRA in the meantime. I do not understand how I should answer the question on the tax form about whether my employer offers a retirement plan when I am determining how much of my IRA contribution I can deduct. My employer does, obviously, but I can’t participate yet. Advice, please?

Answer: You’re smart to continue your retirement savings while you wait to become eligible for the new employer’s 401(k). Missing even one year of contributions could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in lost retirement income.

When you’re not covered by an employer plan, all of your contribution to an IRA is typically deductible.

When you are covered, your contribution’s deductibility is subject to income limits. In 2015, the ability to deduct an IRA contribution phases out between modified adjusted gross incomes of $61,000 to $71,000 for singles and $98,000 to $118,000 for married couples filing jointly.

To be considered covered by an employer plan, you have to be an active participant, said Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. That means money has to be put into your account by you or your employer or both.

Here’s the twist: You’re considered covered for the whole tax year if you participated in a plan during any part of that year. So the IRS will consider you an active participant for 2015 because you were contributing to your former employer’s plan for part of this year.

If you start contributing to your new employer’s plan when you become eligible next year, you’ll be considered covered for 2016 as well.

You could decide not to contribute to the new employer’s plan until 2017 to preserve your IRA’s deductibility, but it probably makes more sense to start contributing to the new plan to get both the tax break and any match.

If your contribution to an IRA isn’t deductible, consider making a contribution to a Roth IRA instead.

In retirement, withdrawals from a regular IRA will be subject to income taxes while withdrawals from a Roth IRA will be tax free. In 2015, your ability to contribute to a Roth phases out between modified gross incomes of $116,000 to $131,000 if you’re single and $183,000 to $193,000 if you’re married.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

1403399192000-retire-workToday’s top story: What you cannot ignore on your retirement statement. Also in the news: How to improve your finances in a single day, how teens can save money on car insurance, and why mental accounting can be dangerous.

4 Things You Can’t Ignore on Your Retirement Statement
Pay close attention.

10 Ways to Improve Your Finances in One Day
It only takes a day!

One way teens can actually save on car insurance
Letting your teen behind the wheel doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

Be Aware of “Mental Accounting” When You Save Money on a Purchase
Convincing yourself you’re saving money is a big mistake.

5 Simple Ways to Save Money as a New College Student
The more they save, the fewer times they’ll call looking for money.

Q&A: Credit score changes

Dear Liz: My Discover card started including a complimentary credit score with my statement. My first report was 840. Each month since has been lower.

Two months ago it was 812 and the last one was 800. I have not applied for any new loans, cards or other credit. My limit on this card is $4,000, and I never charge more than $500 each month, which is paid in full. Why does my number keep dropping when I’m doing nothing different?

Answer: You may not be doing anything different, but the underlying information used to create your credit scores changes all the time.

The company that creates the leading credit scoring formula, FICO, says 8 of 10 people experience changes to their FICO scores by up to 20 points from month to month.

One factor that typically changes: the balances reported by your creditors. The fact that you pay your credit card in full is wise, but irrelevant to your scores.

The balances transmitted to the credit bureaus and used to calculate your scores may be the balances from your last statement, or from a random date in the previous month. If you have other credit accounts and loans, the balances from those factor into your scores as well.

Other things can also change. For example, an old, closed account may “fall off” your credit report, which could affect your credit utilization (how much of your available credit you’re using) as well as the average age of your credit accounts.

Also, every month your active accounts get older, which is typically a positive factor.

So you’ll see changes even when you’re looking at the same type of score from the same credit bureau.

You would see even more variation if you could see all your scores, since lenders use various formulas and pull scores from three credit bureaus.

Although the FICO score is the leading formula, that doesn’t mean the FICO you’re seeing is the FICO a particular lender is using. The lender may use a newer or older version of the formula — or one tweaked to the auto lending or credit card industry, for example.

You don’t have much to worry about, in any case. Scores over 800 indicate that you’re quite unlikely to default, so lenders should give you their best rates and terms if you do decide to apply for credit.