Q&A: Confusion over spousal benefits

Dear Liz: I am currently receiving a spousal benefit from Social Security that’s equal to 50% of my husband’s benefit. My husband and I applied when we were 66 years old in 2015. I do not think my own benefit will be higher than the spousal benefit I am currently receiving when I turn 70 later this year.

But I was told by an agent over the phone that I am still required to file for my own benefit at age 70, and she set me up with a phone appointment. Is this true?

If I do apply and my benefit comes out less than the spousal benefit I have been receiving, will that amount be adjusted so that I can still receive the full 50% of my husband’s benefit? Or will I end up with a smaller amount just for applying?

I can’t see why I should “rock the boat” if I might get benefits taken away. I was just curious when I called in to see if they could figure it over the phone for me to see if I would benefit from the change, but instead I had to set up the appointment.

Answer: You won’t end up with a smaller amount. You’ll either continue with your current benefit or get an increase.

If you didn’t file a restricted application four years ago, then you’re already receiving your own benefit, plus an additional amount so that your checks equal 50% of your husband’s. If that’s the case, there’s no reason to do anything further and your benefits will continue as they are now.

But the phone rep’s insistence that you needed the appointment could mean that you filed what’s known as a “restricted application for spousal benefits only.” That form allowed people born before Jan. 2, 1954, to receive only a spousal benefit while their own benefits continued to grow.

Retirement benefits can increase 8% each year they’re delayed after full retirement age (which for you was 66) and 70, when benefits max out. If your benefit has been growing and is now larger than your current benefit, you’ll get the increase, so it’s certainly worth checking.

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  1. Karen Wells says

    I am 72 and file for SS when I was 62 due to a job loss. I filed strictly under my own earning. Can I also get 1/2 of my husbands benefit amount? We were married for nearly 28 yrs when we divorced

    • It’s worth checking out. If your marriage lasted at least 10 years and your spousal benefit (1/2 your ex’s benefit) would be more than what you earned on your own, your benefit could be increased. If the spousal benefit is less, you wouldn’t get the increase.

    • Liz Weston says

      You can’t get both, but you could qualify for a divorced spousal benefit if it would be larger than what you get now. You can call Social Security and ask them to look into it.