Can You Please Shed Some Light On Why My Wife Can't Get Spousal Benefits?

Jun 13 2019 - 7:31am

My wife started collecting SS in 2015 at 63. She now collects $11,532/yr. I started collecting in 2012 at 66. I now collect $27,292/yr. We were told by a financial advisor and an accountant that my wife should qualify for more benefits based on the 50% rule of my benefits being more than double hers. Went to the SS office and spent 1/2 day waiting to see someone who said no and shown us a page of numbers that made no sense. My calculus class in college made more sense. I beat myself up for not asking for a supervisor who might sit with us and have a clear explanation without an attitude. Wow. Can you please shed some light on this issue based on our numbers so we can sleep a little better knowing the truth. Thank you.


I'll try to clarify this for you. Unreduced spousal benefits are calculated at 50% of the worker's primary insurance amount (PIA), but if the person filing for spousal benefits is already drawing their own Social Security retirement benefits then their own PIA is subtracted from the unreduced spousal rate. A person's PIA is the amount of their monthly Social Security retirement benefit if they start drawing at full retirement age (FRA).

So, the only way that your wife would qualify for additional spousal benefits from your record is if 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA) is more than her PIA. And, based on the benefit rates cited in your question, your wife's PIA is apparently higher than 50% of your PIA.

Your wife filed for her benefits at age 63, so she's receiving a reduced benefit rate instead of her PIA. When a person starts drawing Social Security retirement benefits 3 years prior to FRA like you say that your wife did, their benefit rate is reduced by 20%. So, in other words, your wife is apparently being paid roughly 80% of her PIA.

You apparently started drawing your benefits when you reached FRA, so you must be receiving your full PIA. That would make your PIA roughly $2274 if you're collecting $27,292 annually. If your wife is collecting $11,532 annually, her reduced monthly benefit rate must be $961. That means her PIA, which is the unreduced rate that she would have drawn if she would have waited until FRA to start drawing, must be approximately $1201 (i.e. $961/.8).

Thus, 50% of your PIA (i.e. roughly $1137) appears to be less than your wife's PIA (i.e. roughly $1201). And, since subtracting her PIA from 50% of your PIA would apparently result in a negative amount (i.e. $1137 - $1201), she likely doesn't qualify for spousal benefits.

Best, Jerry