My name is John Johnston and I am a public affairs specialist for the Social Security Administration. Every month we receive questions from people on all aspects of the Social Security program.

I offer this column to share some of those questions and answers with readers and to strengthen their understanding of Social Security.

To contact Social Security, call (800) 772-1213 or visit


Question: My spouse and I have been married for over 30 years and we are about to retire. Will there be any reduction in benefits because we are married?

Answer: None at all. We calculate lifetime earnings independently to determine each spouse’s Social Security benefit amount, and couples aren’t penalized because they are married.

When both spouses meet all other eligibility requirements to receive Social Security retirement benefits, each spouse receives a monthly benefit amount based on his or her own earnings.

If one member of the couple earned low wages or failed to earn enough Social Security credits to be insured for retirement benefits, he or she may be eligible to receive benefits as a spouse.

Learn more about earning Social Security credits by reading our publication, How You Earn Credits, available at


Question: I plan to retire in spring. How soon can I file for my Social Security benefits?

Answer: You can file four months before you plan to receive benefits. Go ahead and apply now if you plan to retire when winter’s frost finally lets up.

To apply, go to Applying online has never been easier—you can do it from the comfort of your home. All you need is 15 minutes and internet access.


Question: I went back to work after retiring, but now the company I work for is downsizing. I’ll be receiving unemployment benefits in a few weeks. Will this affect my retirement benefits?

Answer: When it comes to retirement benefits, Social Security does not count unemployment as earnings, so your retirement benefits will not be affected.

However, any income you receive from Social Security may reduce your unemployment benefits. Contact your state unemployment office for information on how your state applies the reduction to your unemployment compensation.


Question: A few months after I started receiving my Social Security retirement benefit, my former employer offered to take me back. It’s a great offer. Can I withdraw my retirement claim and reapply later to increase my benefit amount?

Answer: Social Security understands that unexpected changes may occur after you begin receiving retirement benefits. If you change your mind, you may be able to withdraw your Social Security claim and reapply at a future date.

This withdrawal must occur within 12 months of your original retirement, and you are limited to one withdrawal during your lifetime. Keep in mind, however, that you must repay all of the benefits you received.

You can learn more about the one-year period when you can postpone your benefits at


John Johnston is a Social Security public affairs specialist.

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