My wife will be 63 in October. Although she worked before we had children, afterward she stayed home to raise them. In 1993, we took custody of our grandson when his parents divorced, and she stayed home to raise him instead of returning to a job. He now lives with us and attends a local college. Is my wife entitled to Social Security? Her last statement from Social Security said she didn't have enough points to receive benefits. Can this be right?


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Yes, it can be because to qualify for a Social Security retirement benefit based on her own work record, your wife would have had to pay Social Security taxes for at least 40 quarters — i.e., 10 years. But assuming you've been paying into the system at least that long, she is eligible for a Social Security benefit based on your work record.

At 62, her spousal benefit is 35 percent of the amount you're entitled to at your full retirement age. If your starting benefit at 66 is $1,800 a month, for example, her spousal benefit at 62 is $630. The catch is that she can't apply for a spousal benefit until you file for Social Security. You may not be ready to do that yet.

But as soon as you've turned 66, you qualify for a strategy called "file and suspend." You can file for Social Security to green-light your wife's spousal benefit, and then immediately suspend your application if you wish. That lets her start collecting her benefit while yours keeps on growing. If you postpone your benefit until you're 68, it will be $2,088 — 16 percent bigger. In the meantime, your wife will be collecting her spousal benefit.

The bottom line Married couples should study all their Social Security options to collect their maximum benefits.

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