Social Security Q&A: Why Can’t I Start Spousal Early and Delay Retirement Benefits?

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Question: My husband is 10 years older than I am; he started collecting his Social Security at age 62. I was a stay-at-home mom for 20 years, but I have earned a small Social Security benefit. Can I start collecting my own benefit at age 62 and then switch to a spousal benefit (half of his) at age 66?

Answer: The answer is no. If you collect your own retirement benefit before your, and not his, full retirement age, ​you will be deemed also to be filing for your spousal benefit. In this case, Social Security will pay you an amount that is pretty close to the larger of the two benefits. Even though you contributed relatively little over the years, your own reduced retirement benefit may exceed your spousal benefit. In this case, filing for your retirement benefit will permanently wipe out your spousal benefit. So, let’s not do this.

Instead, let’s plan on your waiting until your full retirement age to collect just your spousal benefit and then file for your own retirement benefit at 70. Depending on your earnings relative to those of your husband, your total check may rise at age 70. The most important thing, though, that I want to tell you is that there may be a huge return, in terms of your lifetime benefits, to your continuing to work and pay additional Social Security taxes. Indeed, I’ve seen cases like yours in which the additional Social Security benefits arising from additional quarters of covered earnings far exceeds the additional Social Security taxes you need to pay.


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