Dear Rusty: I’m 74 and receiving my Social Security benefits. My wife is 68 and we are delaying her benefits until she’s 70. But I read an article about a wife receiving half of her husband’s benefit, which makes me wonder if my wife waiting is smart. Please let me know your thoughts. Signed: Wondering
Dear Wondering: Your wife waiting until she is 70 to claim her own SS retirement benefit may be a smart move, but only if her age 70 benefit will be more than the benefit she is already entitled to as your spouse. Her benefit as your spouse is 50% of the benefit you were entitled to at your full retirement age (66). She would get that 50% because she has already reached her own full retirement age (FRA), but your wife’s spousal benefit doesn’t grow beyond what she’s entitled to at her FRA. Her own SS retirement benefit, however, grows by .667% per month until she is 70, at which point it reaches maximum (32% more than her FRA benefit amount). So, the question is, which will be higher – her spouse benefit, or her age 70 benefit? If the answer is her spousal benefit, then she should claim that now. But if the answer is her age 70 benefit, waiting until she is 70 makes more sense.
There is, however, another option which would work even better if your wife’s own benefit at age 70 will be her highest. Since you are already collecting, and because your wife was born in 1953, she is eligible to file a “restricted application for spousal benefits only.” Doing so would allow her to collect her 50% spouse benefit from you now, while still allowing her own SS retirement benefit to grow to maximum at age 70. That would give your wife half of your FRA benefit amount each month, while she simultaneously maximizes her own SS retirement benefit. Then at age 70 when her personal benefit reaches maximum, she can switch to her own higher benefit. I suggest that your wife get a Statement of Estimated Benefits from Social Security to determine if her age 70 benefit will be higher than her spouse benefit. If so, she can file the “restricted application for spouse benefits only” and then simply wait until she is 70 to switch from her spouse benefit to her own higher benefit (32% more than her FRA amount).
Note that this “restricted application for spouse benefits only” option is no longer available to anyone born after January 1, 1954 but is still available to your wife because she was born before that. Unless her spousal benefit will be her highest, I suggest that your wife file the “restricted application for spouse benefits only” which will give her 50% of your FRA benefit amount (including COLA awarded since then). She should also ask for 6 months retroactive spouse benefits since she was eligible to do this at her FRA.
The easiest way for your wife to get her Statement of Estimated Benefits is by using her personal “My Social Security” online account. If she doesn’t yet have an online account with Social Security, it is easy to create one at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. She will need that account anyway to apply for her benefits online, which is by far the most efficient way to apply.
This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or email us at [email protected].