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Ask Bob: Can I Claim a Social Security Spousal Benefit If I File For My Own Benefit First?

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. 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 Social Security pays the retirement benefit. Otherwise Social Security pays the spousal benefit.

Question

I will barely qualify for a Social Security benefit on my own record due to 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 your husband's primary insurance amount, or PIA, the retirement benefit he is entitled to at his full retirement age of 67, says Martha Shedden, RSSA®, CRPC®, president and co-founder of the National Association of Registered Social Security Analysts.

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

You can get that maximum spousal amount if you first claim benefits at your own full retirement age, adds Shedden. The amount is reduced if you file earlier, including if you filed early for your retirement benefits — say, at 62, as in this scenario — and switch to spousal benefits later.

Shedden says, “Even if you are at full retirement age when you file for spousal benefits, your total monthly payment will be less than 50% of your spouse’s PIA, reflecting the fact that you initially claimed Social Security early.”

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Email Robert.Powell@maven.io

Question

I will barely qualify for a Social Security benefit on my own record due to 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?

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