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Reduction in Benefits for Spouses and Widow(er)s Due to Social Security
(Posted February 16, 2000)
Question 45: My father worked for a railroad his entire career. He was born in 1910, retired at 65, and died in 1998. My mother was a nurse and retired at 62. She is now 77 and receives Railroad Retirement as a widow. As I understand it, if she applies for her own Social Security, she may not get anything additional because Railroad Retirement would just subtract her Social Security from her widow's payments. Is this true or can she get an increase in total benefits?
Answer: Railroad Retirement Benefits and Social Security are fully coordinated. The basic principle is that, under Social Security, when you qualify for more than one benefit, you really only get the highest one. Under Railroad Retirement, this principle applies to the Tier 1 benefit, the one that closely approximantes a Social Security benefit. Tier 2, which is more like a private pension, is not reduced for Social Security.
There are circumstances when a spouse or widow can increase the total monthly payments by applying for Social Security. This usually happens when the individual's own Social Security benefit is higher than the Tier 1 benefit. Your mother should ask Social Security for the monthly amount of the benefits she earned. With that information in hand, she then should ask the Railroad Retirement Board if her total benefits would increase by filing for Social Security.
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