The blackout period for Social Security benefits occurs when a surviving spouse no longer is eligible to collect benefits. The period is based on the person’s age as well as his or her dependents. The Social Security Administration did not intentionally establish this gap of benefits; the period is artificially created based on each individual’s situation. Every person has a different blackout period based on the variables in his or her situation.
Survivors and Surviving Children
The Social Security Administration refers to a widow as a survivor. The blackout period potentially exists only for survivors. The deceased spouse must have worked in the United States and contributed to Social Security. In addition, whoever collects the benefits must care for any child under the age of 16 who belonged to the deceased spouse.
When the Blackout Period Occurs
The period of time when a surviving spouse is ineligible to collect Social Security benefits occurs between the time the survivor's child reaches the age of 16 and when the survivor turns 60. Prior to the child turning 16, the survivor is entitled to benefits. After the survivor turns 60, the survivor is entitled to benefits once again. However, during this window of time – between the child's 16th birthday and the survivor's 60th birthday – the survivor is ineligible for benefits. The window occurs based on two different rules.
Start of Blackout Period
The start of the blackout period is based on rules established by the Social Security Administration regarding survivor benefits when the survivor cares for a child. Regardless of the survivor's age, the survivor is eligible to collect benefits if the survivor is left to care for a child by himself or herself. The survivor can collect benefits until the child reaches the age of 16. For example, consider a person who is 30 years old, has a two-year-old child and who becomes a widow. The surviving spouse is entitled to collect Social Security benefits until the child is 16. In this case, the person will collect Social Security benefits until he or she is 45 years old.
End of the Blackout Period
Because of a separate survivor rule stating that an individual is eligible for survivor benefits upon reaching a certain age, the latest period to which a blackout period can extend is to the surviving spouse's 60th birthday. This rule disregards whether or not the survivor has a child and is separate from the rule mentioned above. Continuing the aforementioned example, the surviving spouse will be eligible to collect benefits again when he or she is 60 years old. Therefore, the survivor's blackout period lasts from the ages of 45 and 60; during this time, the survivor is ineligible to collect survivor Social Security benefits.
There is an exception for disability, as a person can begin collecting survivor benefits if he or she is disabled and the disability was incurred within seven years of the spouse's death.
The blackout period exists only for the spouse of the deceased. The child of a deceased parent who is eligible to receive Social Security benefits may receive payments as long as the child is under the age of 18, or under the age of 19, if the child remains in school.
Managing the Blackout Period
A common remedy to manage the blackout period is to offset the time period with life insurance. Term life insurance covers an individual for a predetermined amount of time.
For example, consider a couple that just had a child, and both individuals are 31 years old. If either parent dies, the surviving spouse is eligible to collect benefits until he or she is 47 years old (when the child is 16). If the spouses purchase 30-year term life insurance, they will be covered until the age of 61, one year after Social Security eligibility is reinstated.