When Can My Wife Claim A Spousal Benefit?

Aug 11 2019 - 8:39am

Hello, Larry. My wife is receiving her social security benefit. She will do better when I file and she can take a spousal benefit. However, I am considering filing a restricted application in September, when I turn FRA and take a 50% spousal benefit while working full time. My question is, when can my wife claim a spousal benefit for her? Can she take it when I file my restricted application at full retirement age or must she wait until I begin taking my benefits down the road, perhaps up to age 70? Thank you for your advice. Steve

Hi Steve,

Your wife won't be eligible for spousal benefits at least until you file for your own Social Security retirement benefits. Still, though, the best long-term strategy for you and your wife may well be for you to file a restricted application for spousal benefits only at your full retirement age (FRA), and wait until age 70 to switch to your own record.

If you file just for spousal benefits at FRA, you can be paid 50% of your wife's primary insurance amount (PIA) even if your wife started drawing her benefits early at a reduced rate. A person's PIA, by the way, is equal to the amount of their Social Security retirement benefit if they start drawing at FRA. You could then switch to your own Social Security retirement benefits at age 70, at which time your benefit rate would be 32% higher than your PIA. If you then die before your wife and after you reach age 70, your wife could be paid your full age 70 rate as a survivor. She wouldn't get that full amount plus her own Social Security benefit, though, just the higher of the two.

On the other hand, if you file for your own Social Security retirement benefits at FRA your benefit rate would be equal to your PIA. And, that would then be the most that your wife could receive as a survivor if you die before her. She would, though, potentially be able to qualify for an excess spousal benefit sooner if you file for your own benefits at FRA instead of waiting until age 70.

Whenever you file for your own retirement benefits, your wife's unreduced excess spousal rate would be calculated by subtracting her PIA (or her PIA augmented by delayed retirement credits (DRC) if she started drawing her benefits after FRA) from 50% of your PIA. If that amount is positive and if she is at least FRA when she becomes eligible for spousal benefits, her excess spousal rate would then be added to the amount that she is already receiving on her own record.

You and your wife may want to strongly consider using our software (https://maximizemysocialsecurity.com/purchase) to compare your various options so that you can determine what you believe is the best long term filing strategy for the two of you.

Best, Jerry