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Ask Bob: Should I File for Social Security on My Own Record First and Spousal Benefits Later?

A reader wants to know whether she should file for Social Security at age 62 and then spousal benefits later

Question

I will barely qualify for a Social Security benefit on my own record due to a lack of earnings history. I will be entitled to a spousal benefit on my husband's record though. Can I file for a benefit based on my own earnings record at age 62, then switch to the spousal at age 67 when my husband files? Would the spousal benefit be reduced even if I claim my own benefit early?"

Answer

The highest spousal benefit is 50% of her husband's primary insurance amount, or PIA, the retirement benefit he is entitled to at his full retirement age of 67, according to Martha Shedden, the co-founder and president of the National Association of Registered Social Security Analysts.

“Yes, she can file for her own retirement at 62, but when she begins to collect spousal benefits at her full retirement age (FRA), her total monthly benefit will be less than the 50% of her husband's primary insurance amount, PIA.”

She can get that maximum spousal amount if she first claims benefits at her own full retirement age; the amount is reduced if she files earlier, said Shedden. “This includes if she filed early for her retirement benefit — say, at 62, as in this scenario — and switches to spousal benefits later.”

Even if she is at full retirement age when she files for spousal benefits, Shedden said her total monthly payment will be less than 50% of her spouse’s PIA, reflecting the fact that she initially claimed Social Security early.

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Email Robert.Powell@maven.io.