Your Social Security Advisor

Optimum Time for Wife’s Benefit – Ask Rusty

social security benefits spousal disability benefitDear Rusty:  I would like some advice on the optimum time for my wife to start drawing her Social Security. Pertinent facts are: I am 11 years older than her (born in 1949) and waited until my full retirement age to start my own Social Security. She made significantly less money than I did so I understand she will be able to file based on my record instead of hers. If that is true then I would like to know how to maximize her monthly benefit by starting at the best age for her. I am not concerned about lifetime benefits as we both have a good chance to live long lives. Also, I read she will be able to continue my benefit after my death but that doesn’t make sense so am skeptical of that. Please clarify and also advise if she should start at FRA or wait until 70. Signed: Need to Know

Dear Need to Know:  If your wife is 11 years younger than you, I assume her birth year is 1960, which would make her full retirement age 67. Since your wife “made significantly less money” than you, she should first look at the value of ½ of your benefit and also what her own retirement benefit would be at age 67.  If the difference is substantial and she wouldn’t make more by delaying past her full retirement age, even up to age 70 and earning delayed retirement credits on her own benefit, then her focus should be on optimizing her spousal benefit.

If you’re financially able and her health is good, waiting until she reaches age 67 will yield your wife her highest spousal benefit amount. Her full retirement age is when she will get the full 50% of your “primary insurance amount” (or “PIA” – the amount you are entitled to at your FRA plus any COLA increases). If she claims benefits any earlier, they will be reduced to be as little as 32.5% of yours if she claims as soon as she is eligible at age 62. Please note that her benefit will be comprised of two parts – the first part being her own retirement benefit, and the 2nd part being a supplemental amount to bring her up to the spousal benefit she is entitled to. Whenever she files, she will be deemed to be filing for both her own benefit and her spousal benefit, and since spousal benefits don’t grow beyond one’s full retirement age, she need not wait any longer than that to apply.

As to your second question, if you should predecease your wife, she will indeed be eligible to collect 100% of the amount of your benefit at your death, provided that is more than her own benefit, and provided she has reached her full retirement age when she applies for the widow’s benefit (she doesn’t have to take it immediately upon your death). In the event of your untimely early death, survivor’s benefits can be taken before your wife reaches FRA – as early as age 60 – but they will be reduced to less than 100% of the benefit you were receiving (the reduction amount would depend on her age when she takes her widow’s benefit). Please note that the widow’s benefit would replace her spousal benefit; it’s not in addition to it.  Lastly, for widow’s benefit purposes, her full retirement age would be 4 months earlier than her normal retirement age, in other words 66 + 8 months rather than age 67. This is due to a special Social Security provision which benefits a worker’s surviving spouse.

The information presented in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The opinions and interpretations expressed are the viewpoints of the AMAC Foundation’s Social Security Advisory staff, trained and accredited under the National Social Security Advisors program of the National Social Security Association, LLC (NSSA). NSSA, the AMAC Foundation, and the Foundation’s Social Security Advisors are not affiliated with or endorsed by the United States Government, the Social Security Administration, or any other state government. Furthermore, the AMAC Foundation and its staff do not provide legal or accounting services. The Foundation welcomes questions from readers regarding Social Security issues. To submit a request, contact the Foundation at [email protected], or visit the Foundation’s website at

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Ben Swenning
4 years ago

Excellent Information! Thank you!

Robert Lane
4 years ago

Rusty – the previous answer concerning wife’s benefits looked almost like I asked the questions and forgot that I wrote in to you!! Our situation is very similar (my wife was born in 58 and I am almost 69. I started taking my SS at 66 (full). I still work full time. Anyway, my only question is if my wife begins taking her SS (her’s + what it takes to make 1/2 mine less whatever penalty before her full ret. age) and I die, does she still get my full benefit even though she took hers earlier than her full benefit age?

Timothy Ochs
4 years ago

Do I need to claim my SSA benefits before my wife can claim her ‘spousal’ benefits on me. For example; she is 9 months older than I. Can she claim spousal benefits on my account at 67; even if I wait to age 70 to claim; or do I need to claim before she can claim spousal benefits? If that is the case; it doesn’t make much financial sense for me to wait until age 70; if her spousal benefits do not increase after she reaches her full retirement age of 66 1/2?


4 years ago

I will be 65 at the end of November. I know I cannot draw full social security until I am almost 67. My question is this. I receive a small state retirement (under $750 a month gross). Will my social security amount be affected because of this? Also my husband will be retiring in about 4-5 years. He received a retirement from his military service how’s will that affect his Social security? I do not pay into social security from my retirement amount but he does.

4 years ago

All so want is social security phone number.

4 years ago
Reply to  Katie

The easiest way to find the phone number for your local SS office is to go to this website: You can enter your zip code and they will give you complete contact information.

Arnold Van Doren
4 years ago

When my wife turned 65 in 2004, she was not given a choice between taking 1/2 of my SS, or hers which was considerably less. Is there
any recourse for her?

4 years ago

Arnold, if your wife is now collecting only her benefit from her own work record and is entitled to more as your spouse, then she can still apply for the spousal benefit at any time. If you wish to explore this further please email us at the email address given at the end of the above article and we will explain in more detail.

Susan Chandler
4 years ago

My husband and I married in 2013. I am 9 months older so will be eligible for SS benefits earlier. Am I eligible to collect spousal benefit too since we have only been married for 5 years?

4 years ago
Reply to  Susan Chandler

Susan, you will be eligible to collect spousal benefits as soon as your husband starts collecting his benefits, but the spousal benefit must be greater than any benefit you are entitled to on your own work record in order for you to collect. If you would like to email us as indicated at the end of the above article, we can give you more complete information about your eligibility for spousal benefits.

4 years ago

SS office we visited said there is no spousal benefit and when one of us dies the spouse gets nothing! Are you saying that is not correct?

4 years ago
Reply to  Fish

That could be true under certain conditions, for example, if you both have a Federal, State or Local pension from an employer who did not withhold Social Security from your paycheck. Please email us with more details about your situation to the email address at the end of the above article.

4 years ago

I am 5 yrs. younger than my husband was hurt on the job but refused SS disability so when he retired we New we had to wait for me to Medicare but we had free ins. From his work And had a small nest egg then obamacare came and sole our nest egg because we had to pay out of pocket for my medical and meds. It took 70 Thousand dollars of our nest egg so check everything out because the gov. Ruined us we barely make now. The gov. Should have to pay us back with interest

Lewis E Schultz
4 years ago

That was interesting and very informative. Thank you.

4 years ago

My wife took early retirement, at age 62, but continues to work making about $6k a year. I was wondering if I retire at 65 what happens to her benefit? We were both born in 1954, she is 3 months older, so I would like her to get whatever is best for her in the case of my untimely death.
Did her going early cause any irreconcilable damage or cost us a lot of money?

4 years ago
Reply to  Bill

Bill, your wife’s SS benefit will continue but depending upon your benefit amount compared to hers she might also get a spousal boost. If you send us more details about your benefits and your wife’s to the email address at the end of the above article we can give you a more detailed answer.

4 years ago

Do I need to still work up to 62 before I stay home, in other words I’m 60 and not working now, will my benefits be lower because I’m not working till I’m 62( for social security)?

Dan W.
4 years ago
Reply to  Linda BARNETT

A single person’s social security benefit is based on their highest 35 calendar years of income. For example, if you had income in 30 calendar years, the calculation would include each of those 30 years plus 0 income for each of the five years of the 35 that you did not have any income. For a second example, if you had income in 40 calendar years, the calculation would exclude each of your lowest five calendar years of income.

If you can make more money this year or next year than you made in any of your highest 35 calendar years to date, you can increase your social security benefit.

The other thing to consider is that your social security benefit is reduced by approximately 8% per year for every year that you elect social security prior to your full retirement age (FRA). For example, if your full retirement age is 67 and you elected to take social security at 66, your full social security benefit will be reduced by 8%. In this same example, if you elect social security at age 62, your full social security benefit will be reduced by approximately 40% (an 8% reduction times five, if you elected to take social security five years earlier than your full retirement age of 67).

4 years ago
Reply to  Dan W.

Linda, Just a clarification- the annual reduction for early claiming is 6.7% per year (rather than 8%) for the 3 years immediately preceding one’s full retirement age, and 5% per year for any year(s) more than 3 years prior to one’s FRA. Feel free to send us any further questions to the email address at the end of the above article if you need more info.

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