Am I Correct That I Can File Just For Spousal Benefits If My Wife Applies For Her Benefits?

Nov 20 2019 - 3:35pm

Hi Larry,

I’m quite sure you have answered this question a million times already, if not more. I ask this question after reading your book and becoming paranoid about asking the Social Security Administration to start our benefits for fear of making the wrong statement.
I read many of your articles and find that your audience sometimes does not give enough information for you to provide possibly the best response. So, with that said, my wife Barbara’s birthday is September 11, 1954 and my birthday is March 8, 1953. Barbara stopped working in May 2018 due to neck and shoulder pain after nearly 35 years in the work force. Barbara received disc replacement surgery in her neck in August of 2018. A third-party company retained by Barbara’s employer applied to Social Security on her behalf for disability. Her application was denied.
I am currently working and have plans to work until I reach the age of 69 or 70 years so that I can collect the extra 8% yearly increase. I don’t think Barbara will return to work because of her physical limitations. Barbara’s social security payment at FRA is projected by the Social Security Administration to be $2,059 per month. My social security payment currently is projected to be $2,739 per month. I am obviously beyond FRA. I am the high earner in our marriage.
I think the best option for Barbara and I is for Barbara to file for her social security and for me to file for spousal benefits on her social security record. I believe with my birth date that I am still eligible to file for spousal support on Barbara’s social security record. And, I believe I must have reached my FRA, which I did on March 8, 2019, before I can file for spousal benefits on Barbara’s record. If my supposition is correct, Barbara should have filed to receive social security benefits on March 8, 2019 and I should have filed for spousal benefits at the same time. If this is correct, is there any way to collect the benefits retroactively?
Several sections of your book are dedicated to what to tell social security, what to make sure they don’t say to you, and what to write on your application. If my above supposition is correct, what should I tell social security and what should I write on my application? Barbara and I visited a social security office several months ago and the representative said we have to visit the office in person to start the process I described above.
With the information you have about Barbara and I, do you have any sage advice for a different route or anything else? Are there considerations we missed? Please confirm my above described course of action if you agree.

Sincerely,
Michael

Hi Michael,

Yes, since you were born prior to January 2 1954 and since you are now full retirement age (FRA), you could file just for spousal benefits if and when your wife files for her benefits while letting your own benefit rate to grow until age 70. Since your wife hasn't yet reached FRA she couldn't claim benefits retroactively for any months prior to the month that she files her application for benefits, nor could you claim benefits any earlier than the first month that your wife elects to start her benefits.

You and your wife must ultimately decide for yourselves when to start drawing your benefits, but I certainly wouldn't argue against having your wife file now so that you can draw spousal benefits before switching to your own record at age 70. The only downside would be that your wife would receive a lower benefit rate for as long as both of you are living, but the upside would be that you would both be able to start drawing benefits sooner. Furthermore, you'll still receive your highest possible benefit rate if you wait until age 70 to start drawing your own benefits, and your wife could switch to receiving that higher rate if you die before her.

You and your wife could probably file your applications online if you chose to, but filing in person at a Social Security office would also be fine. If you file for spousal benefits online, there is a question on the application that states "If you are eligible for both retirement benefits and spouse's benefits, do you want to delay receipt of retirement benefits." Answering that question 'yes' will restrict your own retirement benefits from the scope of your application. You could also add a statement in the remarks section such as “I wish to exclude retirement benefits from the scope of this application.”, but it's not really necessary. If you file in person or by phone, you'll just need to tell the Social Security claims representative that you want to file for spousal benefits only, and the representative should add the necessary wording on your application for you. Just be sure to review your copy of the application to make sure that it contains a statement restricting retirement benefits from the scope of your application.

Before you make your final decision, you and your wife may want to consider using our software (https://maximizemysocialsecurity.com/purchase) to obtain a full detailed comparative analysis of all of your various options.

Best, Jerry