Can I Claim Full Social Security Benefits Before My Ex Does?

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Today’s question comes from Michael:

“I have a question about Social Security benefits. I was divorced almost 20 years ago after 18 years of marriage. I was a stay-at-home parent for 10 years, so I lost a lot of income — plus, I never made as much as my ex even when I was working. I never remarried and have learned that I can claim Social Security benefits based on my ex-spouse’s income. I’m 3 years older than my ex. Do I have to wait till my ex is 67 to get full benefits, or can I collect full benefits when I turn 67?”

3 conditions you must meet

Michael: You can collect your full spousal benefit when you reach full retirement age, 67. You do not have to wait until your ex-spouse turns 67.

The penalty for early claiming only applies when you claim before your full retirement age (FRA). Your ex-spouse must be at least 62 but does not have to have reached FRA for you to receive your full spousal benefit. The amount that you can collect at 67 is 50% of the primary insurance amount (PIA) that has been earned by your ex-spouse.

In some situations, people who are divorced are in a better situation than people who are still married. In your case, you can claim a spousal benefit even if your younger ex-spouse has not claimed benefits yet. The requirement for claiming a spousal benefit from an ex-spouse is that the ex must be at least 62. If you were still married, you would have to wait until your spouse claimed before you could claim a spousal benefit.

There are several important conditions that must be satisfied in order to claim a spousal benefit. You seem to meet all of them.

  • First, your own retirement benefit must be smaller than the spousal benefit you would receive from your ex-spouse.
  • Second, you must be married more than 10 years and have been divorced for two years.
  • Third, you cannot have remarried. If you were to remarry, you would lose your spousal benefit.

As I mentioned above, the amount you will receive is based on the PIA earned by your ex-spouse. The PIA is calculated using the 35 highest years of earnings.

If your ex-spouse continues to work — and has not yet worked for 35 years, or your ex’s new earnings are higher than their inflation-adjusted previous earnings — their PIA will be adjusted upward over time, and your spousal benefit will also increase based on your ex’s rising PIA.

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About me

I hold a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years. I now do the same at Gallaudet University.

In 2009, I co-founded, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.

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Disclaimer: We strive to provide accurate information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that we are not offering legal, accounting, investment or other professional advice or services, and that the SSA alone makes all final determinations on your eligibility for benefits and the benefit amounts. Our advice on claiming strategies does not comprise a comprehensive financial plan. You should consult with your financial adviser regarding your individual situation.

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