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Social Security Mailbox

What Happens to a Prisoner's Benefits?

Another reader asks: Should I claim benefits on my work record or my husband's?

En español | Q. My husband recently went to prison. He has been getting Social Security retirement benefits for several years. Since I never worked, I've been getting half of his benefits. What will happen to our Social Security payments?

A. Your husband's Social Security payments will be suspended. By law, the Social Security Administration will not pay benefits to a person who has been convicted of a crime and is in prison for more than 30 continuous days.

On the other hand, you will continue to get your spousal benefits. It is important for you or your husband to inform Social Security that he is in prison. This will avoid his receiving improper payments, which would then have to be paid back. 

Q. My husband retired and took his Social Security benefits when he reached full retirement age at 66. I will turn 66 soon, but I plan to keep working. I wonder whether I should file for benefits based on my own work record — or file for benefits as a spouse on my husband's record. What do I need to know about this?

A. When you reach your full retirement age, you will be able to choose between claiming your own retirement benefit or claiming a spousal benefit.

If you choose to receive only your spousal benefit, which could be one-half of your husband's full benefit, that would enable you to earn delayed retirement credits up until age 70. The delayed retirement credits — currently 8 percent a year — will increase your eventual Social Security payments when you finally take your retirement benefits.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don’t find your answer there, send a query.

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