Lynn Brenner Lynn Brenner

Brenner answers questions about all aspects of family finance.

My husband took Social Security at age 62. Four years later, I began taking Social Security, also at age 62. I made more money than he did, and I receive a higher benefit than he does. Reading your columns about spousal benefits, I now wonder if he could have received my higher benefit over the years -- and if so, is it too late to apply for it?


At 62, your husband could not have received a higher benefit than he did.

At that time, he wasn't yet eligible for a spousal benefit based on your work record, because you hadn't yet applied for Social Security. He received a benefit based only on his own record -- and the amount he received was (and still is) discounted because he applied for it before reaching his full retirement age.

Now that you're collecting Social Security, he could go back and apply for a spousal benefit based on your record. But from what you've said, he won't get a bigger monthly check. The reason is that during your lifetime, the most your spouse can collect is the larger of two amounts: the benefit based on his own work record, or up to 50 percent of your benefit. (If your benefit is $1,153, for example, his maximum spousal benefit will be $576.50. If he applies for it before his full retirement age, it will be smaller.)

To collect more, he'd have to be a widower. If you die first, he'll qualify for a survivor's benefit equal to whichever is larger: the amount based on his work record or 100 percent of the amount you were collecting when you died.

The bottom line A person applying for Social Security receives the highest amount possible based on all the benefits for which he or she is eligible at that time.

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