I'm under 62. I want to delay taking my Social Security benefit until I'm 66. My wife has been collecting Social Security disability for 10 years. When I'm 62, could I collect a spousal benefit based on her earnings (even though she'll still be under 62) and postpone taking my own benefit until I'm 66? When I apply for my benefit at 66, can she switch from her disability benefit to a spousal benefit?
There are two prerequisites for collecting a spousal benefit: You must be at least 62 and your spouse must already have applied for Social Security -- a retirement benefit or a disability benefit -- based on his or her earnings record. So yes, you could apply for a spousal benefit at 62.
The problem is that if you do that, you won't be able to postpone taking your own benefit. At age 62, that option isn't available to you. When you file for a spousal benefit before age 66, you must apply for your own benefit at the same time. Since you'll be under your full retirement age, both benefits will be reduced; and you'll receive an amount equal to the larger of the two.
To receive your full benefit, you must delay your Social Security application until you're 66. If your wife is then at least 62, she can switch to her spousal benefit if it's larger than her disability benefit. But that's unlikely to be the case. "Her disability benefit is equal to the unreduced benefit she'd receive at her full retirement age," explains Social Security spokeswoman Linda Lauria. Her spousal benefit at age 62 is only 35 percent of your full benefit.
The bottom line It's important to study the rules very carefully before you decide when to apply for Social Security.
TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4226, or email email@example.com. Include your name, address and phone number. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own advisers for your specific needs.