Will My Wife Be Deemed To Be Filing For Benefits On Her Own Record If She Files For Spousal Benefits At Age 66?

Sep 2 2018 - 10:27am

My wife is drawing ss from Switzerland as a result of her working and living there for 20+ years (Swiss citizen). She has also worked in the US and paid FICA in 7 years since she came to the US. In only 3 years did she earn more than 10k$ (some of the other 4 years was 200$ and one was 2k$). If she applies at her age 66 for spousal benefits on my record when I begin to draw my age 66 FRA benefit, will she be be "deemed" using both her US work record and her spousal application on my work record in determining her spousal benefit or will she simply get 50% of my benefit? I thought she needed 40 credits to be elgible for her own work record but I saw you reply to someone in Austrailia where only 6 credits were needed for "own work record" elgibiliy for US benefits. Signed, Confused (and rightfully so).


It sounds like your wife would qualify for U.S. Social Security benefits based on her own work record as a result of the U.S./Switzerland Totalization Agreement (https://www.ssa.gov/international/Agreement_Pamphlets/switzrld.html). Therefore, if your wife files for spousal benefits at her full retirement age (FRA) or later, the answer to the question of whether or not she'd be deemed to also be filing for her own benefits depends on her date of birth. If she was born prior to January 2 1954 she would not be deemed to be filing for her own benefits if she files for spousal benefits at FRA or later, but she would be deemed to be filing for both benefits if she was born after January 1 1954. And, if and when she does apply for both benefits, she could only draw the higher of her spousal benefit rate or the totalization benefit based on her own work record.

So, if your wife was born prior to January 2 1954 she could potentially file for spousal benefits only at FRA or later while allowing her own totalization benefit rate to grow until age 70. She could then potentially switch to drawing the totalization benefit at age 70 if it's higher than her spousal rate.

Or, if you were born prior to January 2 1954 and you aren't already drawing your Social Security benefits, your wife could potentially file for her totalization benefits and you could file for spousal benefits only on her record at your FRA or later. You could then potentially switch to your own retirement benefits at age 70, and your wife could then file for an excess spousal benefit on your record if her spousal rate would be higher than her totalization benefit.

Our maximization software is not programmed to compute totalization benefits, and the formula for computing those benefits is convoluted (https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0201701200) and fully understood only by specially trained Social Security employees in their Division of International Operations. Therefore, determining the best claiming strategy for you and your wife will be difficult at best because it depends in part on knowing the amount of your wife's totalization benefit. Unfortunately, I can't help you with that beyond explaining the potential filing strategies outlined in the paragraphs above.

Best, Jerry