Can My Wife Claim Social Security Spousal Benefits When I Retire?

Retired couple
Photo by Koto Amatsukami / Shutterstock.com

Welcome to “Social Security Q&A.” You ask a Social Security question, our expert provides the answer.

You can learn how to ask a question of your own below. And if you’d like a personalized report detailing your optimal Social Security claiming strategy, click here. Check it out: It doesn’t cost much and could result in receiving thousands of dollars more in benefits over your lifetime.

This week’s question comes from Chuck:

“My wife will be 63 this year, and I will be 66. I don’t plan on taking Social Security until I retire at age 70. Can my wife take her Social Security now and then switch to spousal benefits when I retire? She has a small pension from the school district that she gets now of $160 a month. Her Social Security will be minimal — approximately $350 a month. Mine will probably be at the maximum. We want to be sure and have the right strategy. What do you advise?”

Don’t turn down ‘free’ money

Chuck, your situation raises a number of complications. It provides a good example of how many people can benefit from inexpensive professional help when trying to reach the best Social Security claiming decision.

First, since you were born prior to 1954, you can take advantage of the restricted application claiming option. This option allows you to claim spousal benefits on your wife’s record while letting your own retirement benefits grow until 70, or whenever you choose to claim them. It will be necessary for your wife to claim her retirement benefits in order for you to use this option.

In your case, the spousal benefit will not amount to a lot since your wife’s benefit is minimal. But it’s free money, so no reason to leave it on the table. I will return to this matter below.

Second, your wife has a pension from employment where she did not pay Social Security taxes. So, her retirement benefit will be reduced due to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). The WEP will not reduce her Social Security retirement benefit by more than one-half of her school pension, which is about $160. So, the WEP penalty will be about $80 a month at her full retirement age (FRA).

Third, the Government Pension Offset (GPO) will reduce her spousal benefit, which she can claim once you claim your own retirement benefit. Again, since her school pension is small, the GPO will have a minimal effect. The GPO reduces a spousal (or a widow’s) benefit by $2 for every $3 of private pension (where no Social Security taxes were paid). In her case, the spousal benefit will be reduced by about $107 at her FRA.

In order to establish your optimal claiming strategy, I ran your numbers through my company’s software. Here is what I found:

For normal life expectancies for both of you, your wife should claim her retirement benefits by the time you reach your FRA of 66. Then, you can use a restricted application to claim spousal benefits only. (If you have already turned 66, you can request retroactive payments back to your birth month, or for six months, whichever is shorter.)

Your spousal benefit will get you about $1,600 a year. While that is not a lot of money, there is no reason to walk away from it. As I said before, it’s free money.

Finally, you should claim your retirement benefits at 70. Your wife can then pick up spousal benefits. At this point, your benefit will be about $3,700 a month. Your wife’s combined benefit of retirement plus spousal supplement will be about $1,240 a month. That’s a nice addition to your other retirement income.

Got a question you’d like answered?

You can ask a question simply by hitting “reply” to our email newsletter, just as you would with any email in your inbox. If you’re not subscribed, fix that right now by clicking here. It’s free, only takes a few seconds, and will get you valuable information every day!

The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. So, it’s better not to ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you.

About me

I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years. In 2009, I co-founded SocialSecurityChoices.com, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.

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.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
This Is the Best Time of Day to Take Blood Pressure Meds
This Is the Best Time of Day to Take Blood Pressure Meds

The right timing can help you prevent a big — and possibly fatal — mistake.

21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store
21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store

Dollar stores have great bargains on both everyday and occasional purchases.

5 Secrets of Seniors Who Keep Their Minds ‘Young’
5 Secrets of Seniors Who Keep Their Minds ‘Young’

Here is why some seniors’ brains work as well as those of people who are decades younger.

6 Investing Tools That Help You Diversify
6 Investing Tools That Help You Diversify

Here’s how you can lend to startup businesses, fund social causes or get in on investments once available only to the very rich.

7 Mistakes Guaranteed to Ruin Your Retirement
7 Mistakes Guaranteed to Ruin Your Retirement

Make even one of these money mistakes, and you’ll probably end up eating ramen noodles in your golden years.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

8 Tips for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone
8 Tips for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone

It’s never too early to start learning how to live well while living on less.

Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?
Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?

Can an adult daughter tap into her late mother’s benefit?

11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco
11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco

Not all generics are worthwhile, but these are among the best from Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia
This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia

Nearly half of U.S. residents may face this threat.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds
Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds

Resolve to be clutter-free in 2021 with these secondhand purchases.

This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers
This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers

For the second straight year, a growing number of Americans believe they’ve fallen prey to this scam.

11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It
11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It

Seriously? Fibbing about the weather is a crime? This and other little-known legal traps await the unwary.

6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have
6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have

Few retirees have all of these documents that are crucial to their golden years — especially during a pandemic.

These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy
These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy

These vehicles boast reliability, safety and long-lasting value.

Can a Divorced Widow Claim Her First Husband’s Social Security Benefits?
Can a Divorced Widow Claim Her First Husband’s Social Security Benefits?

The rules are complicated when it comes to eligibility for survivors benefits.

27 Things You Should Never Pay For — and How to Get Them for Free
27 Things You Should Never Pay For — and How to Get Them for Free

When you know the tricks, you can save big on all kinds of useful things that others pay for.

13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free
13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free

There are many ways to get cheap or free services and goods after reaching a certain age.

15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore
Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore

Starting this month, your ISP no longer can bill you for this fee.

10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s
10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s

From snacks to sweets to side dishes, stock your cart with these time-tested favorites on your next TJ’s run.

9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry
9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry

Keep more of future paychecks by eliminating these budget-busting unnecessary expenses.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.