Social Security Q&A: My Wife Isn’t Eligible — Can She Still Claim as a Spouse?

Senior man
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Welcome to a new Money Talks News feature, Social Security Q&A. You ask a Social Security question, and 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 could result in receiving thousands more in benefits over your lifetime!

Today’s question comes from Sam:

I am currently 66 years old. I claimed my benefits at age 62, so I got stuck with the 25 percent early claiming penalty. My wife will be 65 in March 2019 and is not eligible for Social Security based on her work history. It is my understanding that she can draw Social Security as a spouse. Is that correct? We could definitely use more income.

Sam, I have good news for you — with some qualifications.

First, and most important, your wife is eligible for spousal benefits under Social Security. The amount she will receive depends on when she claims her benefits.

To get the maximum spousal benefit, your wife will have to delay claiming until she reaches the full retirement age of 66. (If she were younger, she would have to wait a bit longer, as the full retirement age is moving upward for people who were born after 1954.)

If she claims her benefit immediately, her benefit will be approximately 12 percent smaller than it would be if she waited until 66, about a year and a half from now.

A benefit bigger than you might expect

The good news is that your wife’s benefit will be greater than you might expect. While the spousal benefit is 50 percent of the benefit received by the primary beneficiary, this is based on what the primary beneficiary would receive if he or she claimed at full retirement age — not the benefit that he or she is actually receiving.

Let’s put in some numbers to see what this might mean. Suppose you now receive a benefit of $750 a month. Because you took your benefit at 62, this actually reflects a 25 percent reduction in the benefit you would have received if you had waited until 66. If you had taken your benefit at 66, you would now be receiving $1,000 a month.

If your wife waits until 66 to claim her benefit, she will receive $500 a month, since her benefit is based on the $1,000 a month you would have received if you waited to claim at 66, not the $750 you are actually receiving. However, if your wife claims her benefit immediately, it will be reduced to about $438 a month.

You might ask if there is any advantage in waiting beyond full retirement age to claim spousal benefits. The answer is no. Unlike the benefits earned by the primary beneficiary, spousal benefits do not increase if you wait to claim beyond full retirement age.

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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 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.

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