Are We Eligible for ‘Free’ Social Security Spousal Benefits?

Retired couple with money
Photo by szefei / Shutterstock.com

Welcome to Social Security Q&A. You ask a Social Security question, and 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.

Today’s question comes from Jim, and it actually came to us in 2019. But the information is valuable, so we decided to share it again:

“My wife and I were both born in 1953. I was the breadwinner, and my spouse has low Social Security benefits — approximately $800 a month.

At full retirement age, can she claim benefits of $800 and I claim spousal of $400? Then, when I turn 70, can I change to my benefits to $3,100, and then can she get $1,400 (one-half of what I would have received at 66)?”

The value of a ‘restricted application’

Jim: The scenario that you outline in your question is correct. The only mistake is that the benefits that you will receive at 70 will be higher than you state in your question.

The claiming procedure that you outline here is referred to as a “restricted application.” In your case, the wife claims first and then the husband claims a spousal benefit at full retirement age (FRA). Then, the husband claims his own benefit later. (Note: You must wait until FRA to claim a spousal benefit, or you will not be able to claim your own benefit later.)

Because the husband waited to claim his own benefit, his benefit will be higher. The wife can then get a spousal supplement to her benefit that reflects half the benefit he would have received at his full retirement age. The reverse situation is also possible, where the husband claims first and the wife gets a spousal benefit, etc.

The benefit of using a restricted application is that you will receive $400 a month while you are waiting to receive your benefit, and your benefit increases every month that you wait. There is no penalty for getting this extra spousal benefit. We sometimes refer to this as “free spousal benefits” because this is all extra money in your pocket.

The good news here is that you have underestimated your benefit at age 70. If your benefit at FRA is $2,800, then waiting until 70 to claim your benefit will increase your benefit to $3,696, a 32% increase over your benefit at 66. This 32% increase is true for anyone who has a FRA of 66 and waits until 70 to claim.

For someone who has a FRA of 67, the increase is 24%. For people with an FRA between 66 and 67, the increase is something in between.

Unfortunately, not everyone can use the restricted application strategy. The law was changed in 2015, and now only people born before Jan. 1, 1954, can use this strategy. It looks like you and your wife got in just under the wire.

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 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 SocialSecurityChoices.com, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.

Got any words of wisdom you can offer on today’s question? Share your knowledge and experiences on our Facebook page. And if you find this information useful, please share it!

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
The 3 Biggest Regrets of Retirees — and How to Avoid Them
The 3 Biggest Regrets of Retirees — and How to Avoid Them

Rescuing a retirement from regret starts with these steps well before it’s time to quit working.

9 Purchases That Will Make You More Productive
9 Purchases That Will Make You More Productive

These Amazon products can give you an extra edge at work and other parts of your life.

11 ‘Disposable’ Items You Should Be Reusing
Top 5 Activities That People Dream of Doing in Retirement
Top 5 Activities That People Dream of Doing in Retirement

No. 1 isn’t visiting grandkids, and No. 4 might surprise you.

17 Surprising Things You Can Clean in a Dishwasher
17 Surprising Things You Can Clean in a Dishwasher

It’s often easier and faster to put these household items in the dishwasher than to clean them by hand.

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.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home
10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home

If you like to keep things simple, avoid these purchases.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Vacuums from this brand can last a half-century, if not longer — and they’re hot on the resale market.

A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today
A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today

A few steps can keep your phone from ringing when a spammer calls.

This Company Makes the Best Tires in America
This Company Makes the Best Tires in America

Driver satisfaction with tires is at an all-time high, but one brand stands out.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?
Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?

Knowing when to claim can help you maximize benefits.

36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon
36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon

The writing is on the wall for dozens of things we have grown up with.

Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs
Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs

Don’t let these health care expenses catch you off guard in retirement.

8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon
8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon

The giant retailer shines when it comes to these things, from basics to hard-to-find specialty goods.

8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners
8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners

Some of these deductions and credits are available to a wide swath of homeowners.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

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.

5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food
5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food

Anyone can take advantage of these resources.

10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable
10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable

There are lots of things Uncle Sam can’t touch — so long as you play by the rules.

6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home
6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home

Stashing money around the house is anything but harmless.

17 Surprising Things You Can Sell for Extra Money
17 Surprising Things You Can Sell for Extra Money

You probably don’t realize these items are worth decent cash.

5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic
5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic

Sometimes the brand-name version is clearly superior.

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.