Social Security Q&A: Can My Husband Claim a Spousal Benefit?

Your spouse may be better off taking half of your Social Security benefit rather than all of his or her own. Here's how to make sure you get the biggest possible benefit.

Social Security Q&A: Can My Husband Claim a Spousal Benefit? Photo by Phovoir / Shutterstock.com

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This week’s question is from Nancy:

I am 62 years old and working full time. I plan to work until my full retirement age. I was born in 1956. My husband is 72 years old. He claimed his retirement at 62. His SS check is $702. Is it possible for him to claim SS under me?

Nancy, to provide a precise answer to your question, I would need to know your estimated Social Security benefit at your full retirement age (FRA), a number you did not give me. Nevertheless, I can show you how to figure out things for yourself.

In determining whether your husband qualifies for a spousal supplement to his retirement benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks at the relationship between two numbers:

  • Your husband’s retirement benefit at his FRA (age 66 in his case)
  • Your husband’s maximum spousal benefit at his FRA, which equals one-half of your retirement benefit at your FRA

You might imagine that they would consider how much he is currently receiving, but they don’t.

The key fact when claiming spousal Social Security benefits

If you claim your benefits before or after your FRA, the calculation for his spousal benefit remains unchanged. In other words, your claiming age is irrelevant when figuring out his potential spousal benefit. The key fact here is that you must claim your retirement benefits before he can claim any spousal benefit.

Your husband claimed at 62 and is receiving $702. His FRA retirement amount is 33 percent greater than $702, or $937. In order to receive any spousal benefits, his maximum spousal benefit at his FRA must exceed $937, implying that your FRA retirement benefit must exceed $1,874 — twice the $937 amount.

Here is an example of how his spousal benefit would be determined by the SSA. Suppose your own benefit is $2,000, which implies a maximum spousal benefit of $1,000 for your husband. Next, subtract his maximum retirement benefit of $937 from the $1,000. The result is $63, which is the maximum spousal supplement your husband could receive (under my assumption about your FRA benefit amount).

Since your husband is claiming after his FRA, he would get the entire $63. Claiming the spousal benefit earlier than your FRA results in an early claiming penalty up to 30 percent (or up to 35 percent for those with an FRA greater than 66).

The endpoint of this example is that your husband’s overall benefit would rise from $702 to $765.

Many of my clients mistakenly believe that, in a case like your husband’s, he could switch from his retirement benefit to the full spousal benefit of $1,000 when you claim your own benefits. Unfortunately, it does not work that way. There is no switching. The supplemental spousal benefit is simply added to the actual amount ($702) that he receives on his own record.

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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 SocialSecurityChoices.com, 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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