Dear Rusty: I reached my full retirement age on 6/24/2017 and I plan to file for my benefits to start in June 2018. My wife doesn’t have enough credits to qualify for benefits on her own lifetime income, but she reached her Social Security full retirement age in December 2017. Since my wife will only be eligible for a spousal benefit, are there any particular nuances of filing that I need to be aware of? Also, I hear local advertisements implying multiple filing options concerning spousal benefits, but I think they only apply if the spouse qualifies based on her own eligibility. In our case since my spouse does not qualify for benefits based on her own work will her spousal benefit be 50% of mine? Is my only option to file for my own benefit in June 2018 and have my wife file for the spousal 50% benefit at that time? Are there any other considerations that I should be aware of? And what is the widow benefit should I predecease my wife? Signed: Wanting to Make the Right Decisions
Dear Wanting: Since your wife is only eligible for spousal benefits, she cannot collect those until you start collecting your benefits. If you file in June 2018, your wife should simultaneously file for spousal benefits. You can file online at www.ssa.gov, by phone, or in person at your local Social Security office (find it at www.ssa.gov/locator). While there are various considerations when filing for spousal benefits, since your wife doesn’t qualify for Social Security on her own work record and she’s already reached her full retirement age (FRA) she really only has one – to file for her benefits when you file for yours. Your wife’s spousal benefit will be 50% of the benefit you were entitled to at your FRA (plus any cost of living adjustments, or COLA, given since then) because she has already reached her full retirement age. You can actually file for your benefit at any time now and since you reached your FRA in June 2017 you’ll get delayed retirement credits of 2/3rds of 1% additional benefit for each month beyond FRA you delay (or 8% more if you wait until June 2018). You can earn 8% more for each additional year you wait up to age 70, but your wife’s spousal benefit won’t increase beyond the amount she’s due at her FRA. Whenever you apply for your benefits your wife should also apply for her spousal benefits and, since she’s already reached her full retirement age, she’ll get 50% of your FRA benefit. She doesn’t get 50% of the increased benefit amount you’ll get from earning delayed retirement credits; she will get ½ of your FRA benefit. Finally, if you predecease your wife, she will get 100% of the amount you were receiving at your death (including any increase from delayed retirement credits) instead of the smaller spousal benefit she was receiving.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Foundation’s website at www.amacfoundation.org.