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Adjustment of Individual Benefit Rates Because of Family Maximum

Excerpted from "Social Security Handbook". See the up-to-date, official Social Security Handbook at

731. Adjustment of Individual Benefit Rates Because of Family Maximum

731.1 When is an adjustment of individual benefit rates because of the family maximum required?

An adjustment is required whenever the total monthly benefits of all the beneficiaries entitled on one Social Security earnings record exceed the family maximum that can be paid on that record for the month. All benefit rates (except retirement or disability insurance benefits and benefits payable to a divorced spouse or surviving divorced spouse) must be reduced to bring the total monthly benefits payable within the family maximum.

731.2 What if a beneficiary's benefit rate is a percentage of the insured person's PIA?

Even if a beneficiary's benefit rate is originally set by law as a percentage of the insured person's PIA, the actual benefit paid to the beneficiary may be less if the family maximum is exceeded.

731.3 Can the family maximum ever be exceeded?

The family maximum may be exceeded only by the effect of "saving clauses" and certain entitlement exceptions.

731.4 What are "savings clauses?"

When the law was changed to add new categories of beneficiaries or to increase benefits, "savings clauses" were included. The purpose of the savings clauses was to prevent the reduction of the benefits of persons already on the rolls or to make sure they get the full increase intended.

For example, under the 1972 amendments, the amount of widow(er)'s insurance benefits was increased and exceptions were made with respect to the entitlement of divorced spouses and disabled children. Savings clauses were provided so that other beneficiaries who were already entitled would not be disadvantaged by these exceptions. Therefore, the total benefits paid on an earnings record may add up to more than the normal family maximum.

731.5 How do spousal benefits affect other beneficiaries under the savings clauses?

The entitlement of a divorced spouse to a spouse's insurance benefit does not result in reducing the benefits of other categories of beneficiaries. Likewise, the entitlement of a legal spouse where a deemed spouse is also entitled does not affect the benefit of other beneficiaries entitled in the month. The other dependents or survivors insurance benefits are reduced for the maximum. The existence of the divorced spouse, surviving divorced spouse, or the legal spouse is not taken into account. His or her benefits are not reduced because of the family maximum.

The examples above are the major exceptions to the family maximum currently in effect, although they are not exhaustive. They must be kept in mind in reading §732. To avoid repetition, the examples are not restated each time they might be pertinent.

Last Revised: Sep. 22, 2003

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