Social Security Q&A: Can I Apply for Spousal Benefits at Age 80?

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Today’s question comes from Ruth:

I am a very young 80 years old. I was not married to my current husband, who is 72, when I applied for Social Security at age 65. I also had not worked for a long time, so my amount is fairly low. My husband applied for Social Security when he was 70, and gets the maximum amount. At this stage in my life, can I apply for half of his?

Age is not a concern for spousal benefit

Ruth, congratulations on feeling so spry at 80 years! I hope I will be able to say the same thing at your age.

Here are a few points that should clarify your situation.

First, if you are eligible for benefits, the Social Security Administration will pay them regardless of when you claim them. So, there is no need to be concerned about applying at “this stage” of your life. A drawback is that you can get only six months of benefits retroactively. It appears that you could have applied for spousal benefits two years ago. So, if you qualify for spousal benefits, you should apply now and request the six-month retroactive payment. You will miss out on about 18 months of spousal benefits.

Next, you wondered whether you can get benefits equal to half your current husband’s benefits. If you claimed early, you will not get fully half of his benefit. You say that you claimed at 65. Given your age, your full retirement age (FRA) was 65 and 2 months. If you claimed during your 65th birth month, you had a small early claiming penalty of about 1 percent of your FRA amount, which sticks with you until you switch to widow’s benefits or until you die.

In your case, this penalty probably amounts to roughly $5 to $10 a month. So, if you qualify for spousal benefits, you will receive a few dollars less than one-half your husband’s FRA amount (not his age 70 amount).

An additional benefit for remarrying later in life

Since you remarried after age 60, you have an additional benefit potentially available to you. If your ex-husband dies before you do, you can claim widow’s benefits on his record, even though you are currently married. This gives you the option of claiming spousal benefits on your current husband’s record or widow’s benefits on your ex-husband’s record.

If both your ex-husband and your current husband die before you, then you have the option of selecting the larger of the two widow’s benefits available to you.

A final point, which no longer affects you but which readers may find of interest: Spousal benefits are available to divorced spouses just as they are to spouses, provided the marriage lasted at least 10 years and you are not currently married.

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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, 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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