Dear Liz: In a recent column, you noted that someone who chooses to obtain Social Security at age 62 on her own account is unable to switch to her spouse’s account at age 66. Is this true for a spouse who is older than the husband? My husband is one year younger than me. If I chose to start Social Security at age 62 on my own benefits, would I be able to switch to his when he retires at age 66 (and I would be age 67 at the time)?
Answer: You’ve actually got it a bit backward. Someone who waits until her full retirement age to apply for Social Security has the choice of starting with a spousal benefit (typically half of what the spouse gets) and then switching to her own benefit later, usually at age 70 when it’s reached its maximum level.
This is often a recommended strategy with two high earners, since the one receiving spousal benefits can “graduate” to her own, higher benefit later. If the spouse receiving spousal benefits was a lower earner, her benefit might not be as big as her spousal benefit at age 70, so there would be no reason to switch.
If you start spousal benefits before your own full retirement age, however, you’re locked in. You can’t let your own benefit grow and switch to it later.
For a program meant to benefit ordinary Americans, Social Security can be mind-numbingly complex. Fortunately, you can find good calculators at the AARP and T. Rowe Price websites to help you sort through your options.
- How couples can maximize Social Security Dear Liz: I will be 68 this summer and plan on working two more years. My wife retired in 2011 after turning 60. We would like to maximize […]
- Maximizing Social Security benefits requires some patience Dear Liz: I am 65 and recently visited our local Social Security office to apply for spousal benefits. (My wife, who is also 65, applied […]
- “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, […]
- Divorced? You may qualify for half of ex’s Social Security Dear Liz: Many years ago I read about spousal benefits based on an ex-spouse's Social Security earnings record. Is there a minimum length […]