Dear Liz: My spouse started collecting Social Security in 2002 at age 63. I am 59, and not working, so my future benefits are unlikely to increase very much, even if I wait until age 70. If he dies before I do, will I get same amount he would be collecting at that time? If I collect Social Security at 62, would Social Security combine our records to calculate my benefit? In other words, should I try to wait or just start collecting at 62?
Answer: Your presumption that your benefit wouldn’t increase much by waiting is incorrect. Even if you aren’t working now, your benefit amount will grow the longer you can wait to apply. That’s true whether you ultimately get benefits based on your own work record or your husband’s.
When you apply, the Social Security Administration will compare your earned benefit with your spousal benefit and give you the larger of the two. Your spousal benefit starts at half of what your husband’s benefit would have been at full retirement age. That amount is reduced significantly if you apply for benefits before your own full retirement age (which is 66 for you, although it rises to 67 for anyone born after 1959).
Also, if you apply for spousal benefits before your full retirement age, you wouldn’t have the option of switching to your own benefit later, even if your benefit grows to a larger amount than what you’re receiving based on your husband’s record.
When your husband dies, you can switch to survivor’s benefits, which equal what he was receiving. Since he started benefits early, however, his checks have been permanently reduced to reflect that early retirement. In other words, if he had waited longer to retire, you would have been entitled to a larger survivor’s benefit.
The Social Security system is designed to reward people for delaying retirement, which is why it often makes sense to do so.
- “File and suspend” can boost Social Security benefits
Dear Liz: I am 63 and not nearly ready to collect Social Security. In fact I probably won't be ready for quite a few years. My husband, who is 64, wa...
- When is the best time to take spousal benefits?
Dear Liz: My wife will be 62 in a few months. I am 77 and we both work full time. Can she collect her spousal Social Security benefit while still wor...
- Social security switch
Dear Liz: When I turned 66, I applied for and then suspended my Social Security benefits so that my husband could take spousal benefits based on my w...
- How spousal benefits work
Dear Liz: My wife has never worked outside the home and therefore has no Social Security credits. My understanding is that as a nonworking spouse, sh...