Social Security Q&A: Can My Wife Collect Her Spousal Benefit Before I Collect?

Social Security Q&A: Can My Wife Collect Her Spousal Benefit Before I Collect?
Photo by View Apart / Shutterstock.com

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

You can learn how to ask a question of your own below. And if you would 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 you receiving thousands of dollars more in benefits over your lifetime.

Today’s question comes from Paul:

I plan on not taking my benefits until 66 years and 8 months, my full retirement age (FRA). My wife is a little older; her FRA is 66 years 6 months. Am I correct that she is eligible to receive the greater of either her own benefit or 50 percent of mine, whichever is greater? If so, can she collect the 50 percent of mine before my full retirement age?

When can a spouse claim?

Paul, it’s nice that you do not need to collect your benefits now, because with delayed claiming your benefits will increase every month you wait until age 70. You are correct that she will receive half your benefit if she does not claim her benefit before her FRA. However, the story is more complicated because she cannot receive your spousal benefit before you claim.

From what you’ve said, your wife is older than you, and you expect her benefit to be less than half your benefit. Under these circumstances, you want to carefully coordinate when you and your wife take your benefits.

A sample scenario

Since I don’t have your entire situation, I can’t tell you exactly what you should do. But I ran a similar case through our algorithm to see what an optimal claiming strategy might look like.

In my example, your benefit is $1,800 and your wife’s benefit is $750. The optimal strategy is for your wife to claim her benefit at her full retirement age (FRA). At that point, she will receive $750 because she is claiming at her FRA.

Since she cannot receive a spousal benefit until you claim, this is the amount that she will receive until you claim. Once you claim your benefit, she will receive a supplement to her benefit that will bring hers to half of yours, $900.

You should wait until your FRA to claim your benefit. At that point, your combined benefit will be $2,700 (= 1,800+900).

Life expectancy matters

What I have described is the optimal strategy if you both expect to live a normal life expectancy — which is currently 82 for men, and 86 for women. While none of us knows how long we will live, there is an advantage for you to delay claiming your benefit if you think that you or your wife may live longer. For instance, if the expectation is that your wife will live until 92, then it is best for you to claim your benefit at 70 instead of FRA.

The reason you might want to further delay your claiming is that the surviving spouse receives the higher of the two benefits. Since you are the higher-earning spouse, delaying your claiming will benefit the survivor.

(Note: Our reports provide optimal strategies under three different life expectancy scenarios.)

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 we’re 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 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.

Learn everything you need to plan your dream retirement

The Only Retirement Guide You'll Ever Need gives you the knowledge you need to retire on your own terms. Sure, you can pay a financial adviser, but this online course gives you total control to create a custom retirement plan around the things that make you happy.

You're going to get expert, personalized advice. You'll have access to the latest tools. And when it's complete, you'll be able to approach your retirement confidently and with peace of mind.

It's time to plan the best years of your life. Let's get started.

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

Read Next

17 Simple Home Repairs That Will Save You Cash
17 Simple Home Repairs That Will Save You Cash

Here’s how to cut household costs and maintain your property’s value.

How to Tap Into Your Home Equity Fast — and When It Makes Sense
How to Tap Into Your Home Equity Fast — and When It Makes Sense

If you’re a homeowner, you may be able to get a competitive loan for as much as $150,000 in just days.

Should You Hire a Service to Negotiate Your Cable and Other Bills?
Should You Hire a Service to Negotiate Your Cable and Other Bills?

Services like BillCutterz and BillFixers will negotiate your cable, internet, phone and other monthly bills in exchange for a share of the savings. I tried it: Here’s what happened.

View this page without ads

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

Get Started

Comments

Trending Stories