Lynn Brenner Lynn Brenner

Brenner answers questions about all aspects of family finance.

I'm a 72-year-old married woman. I've been receiving Social Security based on my own work record since I was 62. At that time, my own benefit was just a few dollars less than what I'd have received under my husband's work record. But I'm currently receiving $80 a month less than I'd have received if I had taken half my husband's benefit. I can't understand why his benefit has moved up and mine apparently stood still.


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All Social Security benefits -- including yours and your husband's -- receive the same annual inflation adjustment. But you're comparing apples and oranges by contrasting your monthly check to the amount you'd have received had you taken Social Security at full retirement age. You started at age 62. As a result, both your own benefit and your spousal benefit were subject to a permanent reduction.

A quick recap of rules: Spouses are entitled to claim a benefit based on each other's work records. The maximum spousal benefit is 50 percent of your mate's full benefit (which does not affect the amount he receives). However, you can't receive a benefit based on your own work record and one based on your spousal benefit at the same time. You get an amount equal to the larger of the two.

In your case, you say that when you were 62, your own benefit was a few dollars less than 50 percent of your husband's. But at 62, you weren't eligible for a 50 percent spousal benefit. When you were 62, your spousal benefit was 36 percent of his benefit. That's why you received your own instead: It was the larger of the two amounts for which you were eligible.

The bottom line Social Security retirement benefits are permanently reduced if you claim them before reaching your full retirement age, whether they're based on your work record or on your spouse's record.

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