Social Security Strategies For Married Couples

by Joe Plemon on June 23, 2010

Married couples: Social Security is complicated and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Is either of you (or both of you) close to retirement age? Are you wondering if you should start earlier or later? Before you decide, make sure you understand these two aspects of Social Security: “spousal benefit” and “surviving spouse benefit”. Let’s start with the definitions.

Spousal benefit

The lower earning spouse has a choice: to claim a “spousal" benefit of up to 50% of the higher earning spouse’s benefit or to claim his own earned benefit. The higher earning spouse must be already collecting benefits before the lower earning one can qualify for a spousal benefit. And this spousal benefit will be reduced for every month under full benefit age. For example, if the spouse is already drawing a $1600, the lower earning spouse could qualify for $800 a month at full retirement age; or 75% of $800 ($600) if starting at age 62.

Surviving spouse benefit

A surviving spouse of a retiree drawing Social Security will receive 100% of that pension, with the following provisions:

  • The survivor must be full retirement age. If not, the benefit will be reduced based on age.
  • If the survivor is insured on her own record and the benefit of the deceased spouse is higher, the survivor will continue to receive her own benefit and also the difference between her benefit and the deceased spouse’s benefit.

Simply put, the surviving spouse will receive the greater of her benefit or the deceased spouse’s benefit, providing she is full retirement age.

Got those definitions? Good! Now for some Social Security strategies.

For clarity’s sake (and because it is this way in most families), I will refer to the higher earner as the man and the lower earner as the woman throughout the rest of this article.

Strategy of waiting

All Social Security benefits are greater when delayed. Because the spousal benefit is dependent on the higher earner’s benefit, the advantages are compounded. Say the higher earning spouse’s benefit is $2,000 at full retirement age. If his spouse also waits until full retirement age to start her spousal benefit, she will draw 50%, or $1,000, for a combined $3,000 monthly benefit. On the other hand, if the higher earning spouse starts his benefit at age 62, it will be reduced by 25% to $1,500. Because 50% of $1,500 is less than 50% of $2,000, this reduction also affects the spousal benefit. But if the spouse starts drawing at age 62, she won’t even receive the full 50% of the $1,500; her benefit will likewise be reduced by 25% from $750 to $562.50 for a combined benefit of $2062.50. Obviously, waiting can make a huge difference.

In the same way, waiting will also affect the surviving spouse benefit. In the above scenario, the surviving spouse benefit drops by $500 (from $2,000 a month to $1,500 a month) when the benefits start early. If you consider this benefit as a form of life insurance, a $500 per month decrease is substantial.

Should Spousal Benefit always be delayed until full retirement age?

Not necessarily. The age differential of the spouses should be considered. For example, if the husband is 70 and the wife is 62, she should consider beginning her spousal benefit at the reduced rate. Why? Because the husband is likely to die earlier and, at that time, her survivor’s benefit (based on HIS pension) would kick in. This is the same benefit she will receive whether she starts at age 62 or not, so she should consider bringing the extra money into the household now.

How to draw Spousal Benefit while waiting

Suppose the husband is full retirement age and wants to wait until age 70 before starting his benefits. Will the wife, who cannot draw the spousal benefit unless her husband has started his pension, need to wait until he is 70? Not if the couple takes advantage of voluntary suspension.

Here is how it works: The husband files for his benefit and the wife files for the spousal benefit. The husband then immediately requests a voluntary suspension of his pension. The wife will be able to collect her spousal benefit while the husband’s future benefit will grow by 8% annually. I like this strategy because the couple is bringing in “bonus" household income while the husband is patiently maxing out both his future pension and his wife’s future survivor benefit.

Another way to claim a Spousal Benefit while waiting

Suppose the husband wants to wait until age 70 to start his pension but his wife also qualifies for benefits based on her own work record. Think through this one with me: she could start her benefit and he could sign up for the spousal benefit while waiting until age 70 to start his own. At that point he switches to his own higher benefit. As in previous examples, this will increase the survivor’s benefit, but will do so while bringing extra income into the household. And the wife could also switch to a spousal benefit based on what the husband’s benefit would have been at age 66. This is very similar to having your cake and eating it too.

One caveat: the higher earning spouse cannot use this tactic if he is younger than full retirement age.

Summary

Social Security can be complicated, but you can make intelligent decisions if you understand these basics. This is your pension that you have paid into all of your working life. Make sure you maximize your benefits.

One more thing: Social Security rules change, so I strongly recommend that you check with the Social Security Administration with all of your questions.

Have you started receiving your Social Security benefits? What strategies did you use? Would you recommend to those who haven’t started yet?

Creative Commons License photo credit: joguldi

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

ellen hughes April 17, 2012 at 10:13 am

Can a wife collect 1/2 of husbands ss after years of collecting a very small amount ? She never knew about this law and is 81 yrs old now .

thank you

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Joe Plemon April 17, 2012 at 10:28 am

Yes. The lower earning spouse has a choice: to claim a “spousal" benefit of up to 50% of the higher earning spouse’s benefit or to claim her own earned benefit. Even at 81 years old, assuming her husband is still living, she should sign up for the spousal benefit if would be more than what she is currently drawing from her own pension.

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Jackie Pitruzzello May 22, 2012 at 10:16 am

I have read all the preceding posts and confusing is not even the word for what I am.Hope you can help. Here is what my husband and I would like to do:
He plans to retire at age 62,but not begin drawing SS until FRA. I would begin drawing reduced SS at age 62 based on my own record. We are within four months of the same age. In the meantime, we would live on my SS, my work pension, and his work pension.He is a goverment employee (FERS). I have two questions. First, if I begin drawing at age 62, will I be able to draw 50% of his bendfits when he starts his own SS or would my percentage be reduced because I received my own at age 62. He is the higher wage earner. Second, since he does draw a government pension, will that affect the amount he will get from SS. We thought this is is not the case since he is a FERS employee.
Hope you can help.

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Joe Plemon May 25, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Jackie,

I can answer your first question but not your second.

1. If you start drawing at age 62, your benefit (whether it is from your own work record or you spousal benefit) will be reduced by 25% of what you could have drawn at full retirement age ( I am assuming age 66). For example, you could draw 50% of your spouses benefit at full retirement age, but only 37.5% (a 25% reduction) if you start at age 62.

2. I would expect that your husband’s SS benefit will be impacted by the fact that he draws a government pension, but these things vary tremendously. The key factor is whether he paid into SS in addition to his normal pension fund during his working years. His HR people (and your local SS office) should be able to answer that question. Make sure you get a solid answer in writing and make sure you understand it.

I hope this helps.

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Linda May 25, 2012 at 11:47 pm

I was married 30 years and divoriced. I went on Dissability in 2002.
My ex husband is living and drawing more from social security than I draw on disabilty social security on my own earnings I have been on disability since 2002
at the age of 58.

Can I change now and draw off him. Or will i have to wait until he passes away to draw his full retirement as he is drawing.
can I change over to his earnings since my
disability social security is less than what he draws.
Am I stuck with my amount by taking my disability early because of my disability

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Joe Plemon May 26, 2012 at 10:54 am

Linda,

Because you were married more than ten years, you should be eligible for a spouse’s benefit on your ex husband’s SS benefit (assuming you haven’t remarried). You would need to contact your local SS office to ask just how much. At best, it would be 50% of his full retirement age benefit, so if half of his benefit is more than what you are drawing on disability, you should pursue this.

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Jackie Pitruzzello May 26, 2012 at 8:17 am

Thanks for the info

Yes, my husband has paid in social security for all of his working time. Another question, if my husband passes away before I do what percentage of his SS could I draw?

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Joe Plemon May 26, 2012 at 10:44 am

You will receive the larger of your benefit or his benefit (but not both). If you are full retirement age, your survivor benefit should not be reduced, but would be if you start receiving it before full retirement age. If you started receiving your benefits or a spousal benefit earlier than full retirement age, your survivor benefit could be affected. I am fuzzy about that scenario, so you should ask your local SS office for clarity. The following is from the SS web site:

The benefit amount is based on the earnings of the person who died. The more the worker paid into Social Security, the greater your benefits will be.

Social Security uses the deceased worker’s basic benefit amount and calculates what percentage survivors are entitled to. The percentage depends on the survivors’ ages and relationship to the worker. If the person who died was receiving reduced benefits, your survivor’s benefit is based on that amount. Here are the most typical situations:

A widow or widower, at full retirement age or older, generally receives 100 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount;
A widow or widower, age 60 or older, but under full retirement age, receives about 71-99 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount; or
A widow or widower, any age, with a child younger than age 16, receives 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount.
Children receive 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount.

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Terry June 16, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I am currently getting SS disability and do draw a small portion of my ex husbands SS. I am currently 51 years old. I would like to know if I were to get married at 51 if my disability would affect my future spouses retirement in anyway. Also it is my understanding that I could still collect spousal benefits from my ex husband even though I recently got married. Is this correct? I appreciate your time and energy in helping me to understand these complicated issues!!!!!

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Joe Plemon June 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Terry–You are right: these are complicated issues! This is why I always recommend talking to your local SS office to get solid information. First, I don’t think the fact that you are drawing disability would affect your future spouse’s retirement. Secondly, about drawing on your ex husband’s SS should you get remarried, I don’t think you can.

The following is a direct quote from the SS web site:

“A person can receive benefits as a divorced spouse on a former spouse’s Social Security record if he or she:

Was married to the former spouse for at least 10 years;
Is at least age 62 years old;
Is unmarried; and
Is not entitled to a higher Social Security benefit on his or her own record.

In addition, the former spouse must be entitled to receive his or her own retirement or disability benefit. If the former spouse is eligible for a benefit, but has not yet applied for it, the divorced spouse can still receive a benefit if he or she meets the eligibility requirements above and has been divorced from the former spouse for at least two years.”

Of course, based on these criteria, you would need to be 62 years old before qualifying for an ex spouse benefit, so I am not sure I understand how you qualify now other than the fact you qualify for SS disability. Still, getting remarried would seemingly disqualify you from the ex spouse benefit.

Clear as mud? Let me know if this helps.

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gayle berry July 18, 2012 at 10:35 pm

my husband has been drawing ss disabilty since 2003. im now age 56 and became disabled. im drawing off my own work record, which is not much. 500.00 per month. his is alot higher like 2,20.00 per month. at what age can i draw off his. thank you for your imput. sincerely gayle

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Joe Plemon July 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Gayle,

I always qualify my answers by recommending that you check with your local SS office. This is a quote from the SS website:

When benefits are payable to your spouse:

Age 62 or older, unless he or she collects a higher Social Security benefit based on his or her earnings record. The spouse benefit amount will be permanently reduced by a percentage based on the number of months up to his or her full retirement age.

At any age if he or she is caring for your child under age 16 or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits.

Your spouse would receive these benefits until the child reaches age 16. At that time, the child’s benefits continue, but your spouse’s benefits stop unless he or she is old enough to receive retirement benefits (age 62 or older) or survivor benefits as a widow or widower (age 60).

In other words, unless you have a child under age 16 living with you, you cannot draw on your spouse’s benefit until you are 62, and at that time, it would be at a reduced rate: one half of $2200 = $1100. Reduction for starting early is 25%, so you would be able to draw a spousal benefit of about $825 in today’s dollars when you turn 62. I hope this helps.

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Bruce Gehrke July 25, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Joe –
Found this site as I was doing social security research. Here are my facts followed by my question. I will be 66 in August of this year and I plan to continue working for maybe another year or even two. My wife is already age 62 and has worked (may or may not continue to work this fall) so that she has her own benefit and her FRA is also 66 (which will happen in May 2016) I have been the higher earner so my benefit at FRA is more than twice hers at FRA.

I am keying on the strategy you laid out earlier about me doing the spousal benefit based on her and letting mine defer while I contiune to work. Her latest SS statement shows $884 at FRA and $624 at her current age of 62. Therefore I should be entitled to 50% of her reduced benefit or $312/month, correct? I can do this even while I continue to work and because I am at my FRA, I have no income limits that would reduce my spousal benefit from her, correct? Also, my wife could go back to work this fall and she has the ability (through payroll reductions) to limit her taxable income such that she stays below whatever is the SS income limit that would reduce her $624/month payment from SS. OK so far?

Now when I decide to start taking my SS benefit in lets say 2 years, it would be at approx. $2600/month. Can my wife then shift to a spousal benefit based on my benefit? And, is it based on my benefit at the current $2600 or does it go back to what my benefit was at my FRA of 66? Furthermore, I think I understand that because she started early (before her FRA) any spousal benefit she gets from me is further reduced beyond the automatic 50% because she started early, correct?

So, do the current SS regulations allow me to file for spousal benefits based on her benefit if she starts taking at age 62? Can she keep working after she starts taking benefits? Can she switch to a spousal benefit based on my benefit once I start to receive it? And lastly (?), is there a reason for me to NOT do the file and suspend when I turn age 66? It seems that if I file and suspend it may give me/us further options, but I’m not entirely sure on this.

Thanks, I look forward to a response.
Bruce

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Joe Plemon July 26, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Bruce,
Things may be even better than you outlined, but PLEASE make sure you run your scenario by the SS office. Policies change regularly.

Anyway, it seems that although your wife’s benefit would be reduced because she starts early, your spousal benefit may be based on what is called her “primary insurance amount”, defined as the amount a person would receive at normal normal retirement age. It seems that if the spouse (you in this case) are FRA, your spousal benefit would not be reduced from the PIA. Read the following quote from the SS website to see if you agree:

“When a worker files for retirement benefits, the worker’s spouse may be eligible for a benefit based on the worker’s earnings. Another requirement is that the spouse must be at least age 62 or have a qualifying child in her/his care. By a qualifying child, we mean a child who is under age 16 or who receives Social Security disability benefits.

The spousal benefit can be as much as half of the worker’s “primary insurance amount,” depending on the spouse’s age at retirement. If the spouse begins receiving benefits before “normal (or full) retirement age,” the spouse will receive a reduced benefit. However, if a spouse is caring for a qualifying child, the spousal benefit is not reduced.

If a spouse is eligible for a retirement benefit based on his or her own earnings, and if that benefit is higher than the spousal benefit, then we pay the retirement benefit. Otherwise we pay the spousal benefit.”

Once you start drawing your benefit, your wife can draw a spousal benefit based, as I understand, on your FRA benefit…not the increased benefit you achieved by waiting. Of course she will still be penalized because once one starts drawing early, the reduction will always apply.

Yes, your wife can work after she starts her benefits, but there may be penalties if she earns over the allowable annual amount. Are there downsides to filing and suspending at age 66? Not many, but one would be the amount of revenue you missed by delaying. It would take a few years to make that up, but if you are in good health, that shouldn’t be a negative issue for the long haul.

I hope this helps.

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Bruce Gehrke July 31, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Thanks Joe ! I was on vacation for a week so I’ve just read your response. It helped me to understand the SS comments by going through and substituting mine and my wife’s name for “worker” and “spouse”; simple but effective.

Yes, it does sound like the spousal benefit I qualify for (based on my wife’s PIA) may not be reduced because I will be at my FRA when I apply for it.

You go on to tell me that when my wife switches over to filing for a spousal benefit based on my (higher) benefit, she will be limited to what my benefit was at my FRA and not what it has increased to (+8% per year) because I haved waited to start taking it.

I do plan on going into the local Social Security and visiting with someone in-person (hopefully within the next 7-10 days) and I will report back after that discussion as to what the SS states is their current position, etc.

Thanks,
Bruce

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Joe Plemon July 31, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Bruce,
I agree that the terms “worker” and “spouse” can become confusing, so I am going to remember your hint of substituting the actual names for those terms when reading the rules.

I am glad you are going to go visit the local SS office. Please let me know what you learn!

Joe

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Bruce G September 4, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Joe –

Well after waiting for 2.5 weeks for my appointment date, I went into the local SS office in downtown St. Paul, MN and had my face to face meeting. All I can say is that all SS representatives are not created equal and I had a real loser. She strted off by telling me that if I were to file and immediately suspend that my benefits would NOT grow and I would simply be losing out on any income. As we got into some even more complex questions she told me that I could not file spousal benfits based on my wife’s benefit because I was the higher wage earner period, end of discussion. I tried to tell her that I had done a fair amount of research and stuff she was telling me did not agree with what I had read and/or been told. Several times I was ready to just stand up and walk out period I finally aked her a question and she said she would have to go and ask her manager. I asked her to please ask about one of the other items I had previously asked about. She came back with a “Yes” answer and simply said that she had never heard of it before, but said most people don’t ask the level of questions that I was asking. She said that I could file spousal benefits based on my wifes benefit while I let mine grow. My wife is 62 at this time and I just turned 66 in late August. I asked if what my wife had to do (ie: file and suspend) and she said the only way I could claim spousal benefits was if my wife started to take early benefits period. She said my wife has no file and suspend option at age 62 and so therefore for me to take a spousal benefit my wife has no way to let her benefit grow. This does not seem right to me , but I would like your thoughts on this last point.

All in all my experience was awful. I walked out and immediately called the other SS office in Minneapolis and had another appt. and I just hope I get a better person to talk to. Bottom line is that if you get a person like I had in St. Paul there is NO WAY you are going to get good information. Beware! I’m going into the other office Monday of next week and I will report back on how this one goes.

Bruce

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Jim August 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm

I am drawing social security. I started at age 64.5. My wife, four years younger than I, who only works part time, will be 62 next year. I understand that she has the choice of drawing 75% of 50% of my benefit OR 75% of her own, if her own is greater. Since her income is so low, she should choose the 37.5% of mine. If she chooses to wait until 66 (her FRA), she could draw the full 50% of mine.

A friend says that if she waits until 66 she can draw 50% of what I would have drawn if I waited until I was 66. This can’t be correct, could it?

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Joe Plemon August 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Jim — As I have suggested to others, I strongly suggest that you contact your local Social Security office to get the real scoop. However, I will share with you my understanding of your situation. Your friend is right. Your wife’s spousal benefit is based on your “primary insurance amount” — the amount a person would receive at his/her normal retirement age, not the actual amount the person is drawing. If she draws a spousal benefit at age 66, she will receive 50% of what your primary insurance amount is. If she starts at age 62, her benefit will be reduced by 25% because she started her benefit early. Stated differently, her reduction in benefit is based on what age she starts drawing the benefit, NOT on what age you started drawing yours. Your reduced benefit (because you started before FRA) does not affect her spousal benefit.

The following is a quote from the Social Security Web Site. If you substitute your name for “worker” and your wife’s name for “spouse”, it will make more sense.

“When a worker files for retirement benefits, the worker’s spouse may be eligible for a benefit based on the worker’s earnings. Another requirement is that the spouse must be at least age 62 or have a qualifying child in her/his care. By a qualifying child, we mean a child who is under age 16 or who receives Social Security disability benefits.

The spousal benefit can be as much as half of the worker’s “primary insurance amount," depending on the spouse’s age at retirement. If the spouse begins receiving benefits before “normal (or full) retirement age," the spouse will receive a reduced benefit. However, if a spouse is caring for a qualifying child, the spousal benefit is not reduced.

If a spouse is eligible for a retirement benefit based on his or her own earnings, and if that benefit is higher than the spousal benefit, then we pay the retirement benefit. Otherwise we pay the spousal benefit."

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Bruce G September 10, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Joe –

I first contacted you near the end of July. Today I had a face to face appointment with a very helpful and knowledgeable SS representative. I got good answers and good information. The starting point is that I am 66 as of last month and my wife is 62 as of May 2012. I plan to keep working for another couple of years.

Here’s what I found out. The spousal benefit for my wife is based on my benefit at my full retirement age. While my own benefit will grow if I wait to start taking it, the spousal benefit that my wife can receive does not increase and of course she would have to wait until she reached age 66 to max out the spousal benefit (50% of my benefit is greater than her full benefit based on her record).

I asked about the “file and suspend strategy” for me and whether I had to do it immediately and if my wife were to file, would she have to do so before I suspended. The answer was that I can file and suspend at any time I choose; there is not penalty nor benefit to file and suspend prior to the time my wife decides that she is ready to file for a spousal benefit based on my record. What she actually does is file for her own benefit and then also files for a spousal benefit based on me filing and then suspending after her paper work is processed.

With regard to the flip strategy, my wife can file for her benefit at this time (at a reduced amount from her full retirement benefit because she is only 62) and I could then file for a spousal benefit based on her while I let my benefit grow. Because I am at full retirement age, the spousal benefit I would receive is based on 50% of her full benefit, even though she is receiving a reduced benefit for filing at age 62. And later, when I do file, she can switch over and file a spousal benefit on me if she chooses and if it means more money.

Joe, this appointment today was my second appointment. Last week I was in a different SS office and received very poor information. Individuals need to do some research themselves so that they have some basis for judging the answers they are given. If they are not sure or uncertain of what they are told, the they need to try again and talk to someone else. That’s what I did and it worked out very well.

Thanks,
Bruce

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Joe Plemon September 11, 2012 at 8:38 am

Bruce — Thank you so much for keeping me (and my readers) current on your SS process. After reading your comment from your first meeting with a SS office, I began to regret my advice to “always talk to your local SS office”. However, I am glad you persisted and had better results at the Minneapolis office. This visit validates my advice, with this caveat: DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

Bruce, if you hadn’t been diligent about reading up and understanding your Social Security options, you probably would have simply followed the counsel of your first SS office visit. One wonders how many people simply take this road of least resistance. Hmmmm. Anyway, I am glad you persisted and were able to get some solid answers.

Thanks again for letting me know how it went.

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Bob S. September 18, 2012 at 10:53 am

Joe –

A friend recommended this site to me, said you could maybe answer some questions for me. I am close to retirement age and divorced from my first wife. My first marriage was for approx. 25 years. My ex-wife is not remarried. I have a much younger girl friend (lets just say 30+ years younger) and we may get married.

Now, I am in good health, but what would be the social security scenario for my younger wife if I were to die 2-3 years after we were married. She does have a young daughter (age 10) from an early relationship (not a marriage), but she does not have primary custody at this time. I am generally familiar with, what I think, is the 9 month requirement of a marriage in order to qualify for survivor benefits. I am unclear as to what exactly she (or we) would have to do for her to get benefits (if I die) because she has a qualifying child. Your thoughts, please.

Also, assuming that SS is still around in the future (I know this is a big assumption), would she be able to claim survivor benefits (based on my record) and the fact that we had a qualifying marriage? What would be the earliest age that she would do that?

Thanks in advance for your help.

Bob S.

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Joe Plemon September 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Bob,

As I tell others, Social Security is confusing and my understanding of these issues could be incomplete or plain wrong. Please check with your SS office for more “official” answers. With this caveat, my understanding of your situation is that your second wife (I will refer to her as second wife in my answer even though you are not married yet) could qualify for full survivor benefits at her full retirement age, reduced benefits as early as age 60, or may receive benefits as early as age 50 if she is disabled. See the below quote from the SS web site:

“If you are the widow or widower of a person who worked long enough under Social Security, you can:
*receive full benefits at full retirement age for survivors or reduced benefits as early as age 60.

*begin receiving benefits as early as age 50 if you are disabled AND the disability started before or within seven years of the worker’s death.

*receive survivors benefits at any age if you take care of the deceased worker’s child who is under age 16 or is disabled and receives benefits on the worker’s record.

I do not think that the fact that your ex-wife is eligible to draw from your benefit should affect whatever your second wife could draw. In other words, it may be possible for two different spouses to qualify for a survivor benefit on the same beneficiary.

Apparently, because your second wife’s 10 year old daughter is not “the deceased worker’s child” (your child), there is no survivor benefit for your second wife to care for her, even if she is under age 16.

Clear as mud? Tell me what you think.

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Ann October 18, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Hi Joe,

I was married 25 year’s to a man who has now remarried. I am 64, he is 67. I have not remarried.
Am I eligible to collect on his SS?? If so, what percentage and does he already have to be collecting. He still works, so he probably isn’t. What would be the smart move for me?

Thank you.

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Joe Plemon November 1, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Ann — Sorry for the delayed reply. Yes, you can collect on your former husband’s benefit. The following is a direct quote from the SS web site:

“A person can receive benefits as a divorced spouse on a former spouse’s Social Security record if he or she:

Was married to the former spouse for at least 10 years;
Is at least age 62 years old;
Is unmarried; and
Is not entitled to a higher Social Security benefit on his or her own record.

In addition, the former spouse must be entitled to receive his or her own retirement or disability benefit. If the former spouse is eligible for a benefit, but has not yet applied for it, the divorced spouse can still receive a benefit if he or she meets the eligibility requirements above and has been divorced from the former spouse for at least two years.”

Your benefit should be the same as normal spousal benefit, which is 50% of your spouse’s benefit, less a reduction in benefit for each month you are under full retirement age. Also, this spousal benefit would need to be more than any benefit you are currently drawing or qualified for on your own work record. You should talk to your local SS office to learn all of the details, but the key thing is that you have benefits coming from your ex-spouse’s SS.

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Becky November 8, 2012 at 2:45 pm

my husband is 62 and ma start getting his SS soon. I am 56….we have our 7 yr old grandson (adopted)….can Our grandson and me also draw a check from my husbands SS?

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Joe Plemon December 3, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Becky,

You need to talk to your local SS office for clarification, because these things are complicated, but my understanding is that yes, both you and the grandson can receive benefits in addition to those your husband would receive. The following is a quote from the SS web site:

“Even if he or she has never worked under Social Security, your spouse

can begin collecting the benefits as early as age 62. However, if the benefit begins early, the amount will be permanently reduced by a percentage based on the number of months up to his or her full retirement age.

can qualify on your record for Medicare at age 65.

can receive a benefit equal to one-half of your full retirement amount if they start receiving benefits at their full retirement age.

who is caring for your child who is also receiving benefits can receive the spouse’s benefit no matter what his or her age is.

Your spouse would receive these benefits until your child reaches age 16. At that time, the child’s benefits continue, but your spouse’s benefits stop unless he or she is old enough to receive retirement benefits (age 62 or older) or survivors benefits as a widow or widower (age 60).”

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Joe Plemon December 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Ron,

As I understand, both spouses (the one who files and suspends AND the one who signs up for spousal benefit) need to be full retirement age. The following is a quote from the SS web site (note the third paragraph):

“If you have reached full retirement age, but are not yet age 70, you can ask us to suspend retirement benefit payments.

If you apply for benefits and we have not yet made a determination that you are entitled, you may voluntarily suspend benefits for any month for which you have not received a payment. Your request to suspend benefits may include any retroactive benefits that might be due.

If you and your current spouse are full retirement age, one of you can apply for retirement benefits now and have the payments suspended, while the other applies only for spouse’s benefits. This strategy allows both of you to delay receiving retirement benefits on your own records so you can get delayed retirement credits.

Note: If you want to do this, only one of you can apply for retirement benefits and have the payments suspended.”

I hope this helps.

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Lowrie December 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm

The strategy Joe recommends is the one I followed, several years ago; and it appears to have worked: My wife and I went in person to the local office when she (younger) reached FRA; I filed and immediately suspended; she filed for spousal benefits and has received them for several years; now I am scheduled to receive my own benefits, having reached 70. So far so good, as the man who jumped off the Empire State building was heard to say as he passed the 50th floor.

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Z.Shao January 10, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Hi Joe,
Thanks for the very intuitive article!
I have a specific case,which I can not get answers from SS web.
I am almost 65 and want to claim for benefit at FRA while my wife is 63 now. She can start her benefit at a reduced amount now.
Say: 50% of spouse benefit is $1000 for her when I reach 66.
The benefit she claims now is $300 based on her own work record at reduced rate.
When she reaches FRA, can she still get the full 50% of spouse benefit or $1000 in total ?

Thanks for help!

ZS

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Joe Plemon February 27, 2013 at 10:30 am

Your wife will be able to receive the spousal benefit, assuming it is more then her benefit. However, if she starts her own benefit before FRA, any future benefit (including spousal) will be permanently reduced by the same percentage her own benefit was reduced.

This is a quote from the SS web site:

“If your spouse is under full retirement age and qualifies on his or her own record, we will pay that amount first. But if he or she also qualifies for a higher amount as a spouse, they’ll get a combination of benefits that equals that higher amount. If he or she begins receiving benefits:

between age 62 and their full retirement age, the amount will be permanently reduced by a percentage based on the number of months up to his or her full retirement age.”

I hope this helps.

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Rebecca February 19, 2013 at 4:02 am

Hello, I am 57 yrs old and my husband is almost 63. I have not worked much at all in my life and am in poor physical condition. Can Iapply for disability and draw from my husbands SS ?

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Joe Plemon February 27, 2013 at 10:46 am

Rebecca,

Sorry, but your question is beyond what I am competent to answer. I have not been able to learn if you can draw disability based on your husband’s SS, so you need to apply through your SS office to see what you qualify for. Of course, when you turn 62, you will be able to draw a spousal SS retirement pension (not disability) from your husband’s benefit.

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Steve February 19, 2013 at 7:16 am

Joe – we have conversed in the past on your site and all of the comments have been extremely helpful. I just wanted to qualify what I think is my correct course of action and get comments.

I am 5 years younger than my wife. My wife qualifies for her own SS benefit. I am the higher wage earner.

What I plan on – when my wife reaches FRA at 66, I will be only 61. We intend for her to start her benefit at FRA. When I reach FRA at 67 I intend to file and then suspend. We then will have my wife file for 50% benefits under my benefit amount, since the amount will be larger, which should be equal to 50% of my qualified benefit if I started at FRA. I will then start my benefit at 70.

I believe this should help us achieve the maximum benefit dollar amount possible. Am I on the right course of action knowning the bylaws of the SSA rules today?

Thanks,

Steve

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Joe Plemon February 27, 2013 at 11:06 am

Steve — I like the way you think, and I see no reason why your plan would not work. You are not only maxing out your benefits, but (because you won’t start your benefit until age 70), you are maxing out the survivor benefit as well, which could provide savings on life insurance premiums — because you won’t needs as much coverage — in your later years.

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Steve February 28, 2013 at 7:02 am

Joe – thanks a bunch for your comments…comforting to know that the plan seems to be workable at least with the present rules. Time will only tell.

Steve

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Mike Jacob April 3, 2013 at 10:56 am

I’m 65 wife is 62. Both had careers. My SS benefits are only moderately higher than wife’s.
We plan to apply for benefit on her record very soon ($1,511). At 66 I will then file a restricted application for Spousal Benefit only ($755.50). Later applying at 70 for my full benefit ($3,011).

1. If I happened to die prior to 70, would her total Survivor Benefit amount revert to my FRA (66) or would it equal the benefit available to me at 67, 68, 69 (the actual date of death)?
2. Is there any penalty for her (having filed early – 62 1/2) that could affect her Survivor Benefit as long as she files for the Survivor Benefit after her age 66?
3. If I died at 70 and after I applied for my normal benefit, wife would be 68. For her Survivor Benefit is there any applicable formula that decreases her benefit if she files at 68 as compared to waiting until she is 70 to file for the Survivor Benefit.
4. Would there be any benefit/reason for me to additionally “File and Suspend” at 66 before filing for my (restricted) Spousal Benefit?

Thanks in advance – I hope my questions are clearly stated. Surely hope you can help. We’ve seen the experts.

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Joe Plemon April 8, 2013 at 11:08 am

Mike,

Yes, your questions are clearly stated, and I am glad you have already seen the experts because I don’t consider myself as such. This being said, I will give you my best shot at answering these questions, but, as I always do, I recommend talking to your local SS office.
1. If you were to die before your wife reaches FRA, her survivor benefit would be reduced accordingly. However, based on this quote from SS website: “A widow or widower, at full (survivor’s) retirement age or older, generally receives 100 percent of the worker’s benefit amount”, I am thinking that her benefit would be based on your benefit amount at the age when you pass away.
2. No. Her survivor benefit is based on your benefit, not hers…even if she starts her own before FRA.
3. No. Her survivor benefit could be reduced if she draws on it before she is FRA, but I have never read that it could be increased by waiting until she is 70 to start drawing it. I could be wrong, so let me know if you learn differently.
4. Of course, the main reason you would file and suspend would be to increase your pension once you turn 70. Doing so will also increase your spouse’s survivor benefit which has the additional advantage of giving her more life insurance, which means you may not need as big a policy on yourself, which means that waiting until you are 70 might allow you to save on life insurance premiums.

I hope this helps. Social Security is confusing, so please check my thoughts with the experts. Also, if you find out that anything I said is not true, please let me know.

Thanks,
Joe

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Jeff Cargile July 23, 2013 at 1:25 pm

My wife and I are both 59 years old. My birthday is 1/30/54 and wife’s birthday is 4/2/54. My wife retired from the public school system around 4 years ago (2009) after 30 years of employment. I am still employed at a pharmaceutical company. We are both obviously eligible for SS. I am beginning to think about what might be my best option(s) regarding drawing social security. I’ve read various articles and know about the 8% loss per year if you draw money beginning at age 62 and the corresponding pay addition of 8% a year if you wait until age 70. At this point I do not think I will consider waiting until age 70 to draw SS. I am more intersted in the possibility of either my spouse or myself (probably her since she is the lower wage earner) possibly drawing SS around age 62 followed by me at around age 66. I ‘m leaning toward drawing SS earlier rather than later because I might be dead later. I definitely plan to remain employed until at least age 65 due to Medicare. Can my spouse initially take advantage of a spousal benefit even though I would not be retired or age 66 when she might draw SS at age 62? Please provide feedback and or your comments regarding what you think might be my best approach given my present scenario.

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Joe Plemon July 30, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Jeff,

My understanding on the spousal benefit is that the beneficiary must be FRA before Social Security would allow him to take a spousal benefit without beginning his own pension. Therefore, you would need to be 66 before you could take a spousal benefit without starting your own.

If you and your wife both want to start your pensions earlier than age 66, it appears that (because you are basically the same age) neither one of you could claim a spousal benefit without claiming your own. However, whenever you claim your benefit, your wife (the lower wage earner) would have a choice of claiming 50% of your benefit (less deduction if she is less than FRA) or her own full benefit — whichever is larger.

This link will take you to a helpful article: http://www.socialsecuritychoices.com/info/freespousal.php

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Barry July 31, 2013 at 9:34 pm

I found this article that agrees with your “Another way to claim a Spousal Benefit while waiting”
http://moneyover55.about.com/od/socialsecuritybenefits/a/socialsecurityspousebenefit.htm
That said: “After you reach full retirement age, you can choose to receive only the spouse’s benefit, and delay receiving your retirement benefits until a later date, allowing you to receive a higher benefit later based on the effect of delayed retirement credits."
We are thinking about following this strategy. We are thinking of having my wife (64) start her benefits when I reach 66 and I will file for spousal benefits. When I’m 70, I will begin taking benefits on my record and she will take spousal benefits. We think waiting to take benefits on my record makes sense because we will receive the increased payments until the last one of us dies. We are thinking about taking her benefits now because the penalty for taking early will apply only until the first of us dies. Additionally the combination of my spousal benefit and her reduced benefit will be greater by about 8% than her spousal benefit from my record even if she waited until FRA. We will be about $27,000 ahead when she would have started to collect benefits. The penalty we will suffer for taking early will be about $104 a month. Thus it will take over 20 years to catch up even if we earn no return above inflation on the early collected money. We are thus hedging our bets by betting one of us will live a long time but taking some of the money off the table early in case one of us goes early.
What do you think?

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Joe Plemon August 1, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Barry,

You asked what I think. I think you have put a tremendous amount of thinking and strategizing into your plan, and I find absolutely no fault in it. So…I say go for it and I hope you both have a long and happy retirement.

Joe

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Steve January 8, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Hello Joe – been some time since I asked any questions so hope this is OK to ask another one.

Back in February of 2013 I mentioned the following which you agreed was a sound plan:

I am 5 years younger than my wife. My wife qualifies for her own SS benefit. I am the higher wage earner.

What I plan on – when my wife reaches FRA at 66, I will be only 61. We intend for her to start her benefit at FRA. When I reach FRA at 67 I intend to file and then suspend. We then will have my wife file for 50% benefits under my benefit amount, since the amount will be larger, which should be equal to 50% of my qualified benefit if I started at FRA. I will then start my benefit at 70.

Note: what I need to ask now – my wife has a non-SSA pension from the State of California. I understand that when she files for benefits that any benefit she is eligible for will be reduced by “x” amount given she has a stream of income from a qualified, non-SSA source of another gov agency. Question is – if her amount is reduced, say 50+% per the language today (and could be much more up to 100%) and she waits until FRA and gets a very reduced amount – when I file when I am 67 and suspend – is the spousal benefit she will be entitled to also reduced by more than 50% given the existing pension income stream? Does the issue of having a different gov pension stream coming in impact the factor that she is eligible for 50% of my FRA benefits?

My question make sense?

Thanks,

Steve

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