My wife is 64. She plans to file for half of my Social Security benefit when she turns 66. Can she collect her own Social Security benefit now, at age 64, and then at 66 collect half of mine, or will she be penalized for starting early and get less than half of mine?

You always get less when you take a Social Security retirement benefit before your full retirement age.

What happens if your wife applies for her benefit at 64 depends on whether you've already filed for Social Security.

If you have, she's eligible for a spousal benefit -- and if she applies for Social Security before reaching her full retirement age, she must apply for all the benefits she's eligible to receive. That means at 64, she'll automatically be applying for both her own benefit and her spousal benefit. She'll receive the larger of two amounts -- 86.7 percent of her own benefit or 37.5 percent of your benefit. And she won't be able to reapply for either at age 66.

If you aren't yet collecting Social Security, she doesn't yet qualify for a spousal benefit. Therefore at 64, she'll receive 87.6 percent of her own benefit. At 66, she can apply for her spousal benefit (assuming you've taken your benefit); but it will be less than half of yours. Let's say her full benefit was $1,000, so at 64 she received $867. And let's say half of your benefit is $1,250. The Social Security Administration will subtract her own maximum benefit ($1,000) from her maximum spousal benefit ($1,250), and add the result ($250) to her $867 discounted benefit. Her new benefit will be $1,117.

THE BOTTOM LINE Your primary benefit and spousal benefit are both smaller if you file for Social Security before your full retirement age.

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WEBSITES WITH MORE INFORMATION nwsdy.li/socsec and nwsdy.li/socsecdiscount

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