Lynn Brenner Lynn Brenner

Brenner answers questions about all aspects of family finance.

Q. My wife and I are retired, but we haven't yet filed for Social Security. She'll apply in November, when she turns 70. I'll be 66 next year. Will I then be eligible for a spousal benefit equal to half the amount she receives at 70, or half of what she'd have received at 66?  Can I receive my own enhanced benefit at 70 even if I've been getting a spousal benefit for four years? Can my wife claim half my benefit now since she's over 66?

A. Your wife can't apply for a spousal benefit now because you haven't yet filed for Social Security. To file for a benefit based on your spouse's record, you must be at least 62 and have been married at least one year, and your spouse must have applied for his or her own benefit.

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When your wife applies for her own benefit, she'll get 132 percent of the amount she'd have received at 66. (If her benefit at 66 was $1,000, for example, at 70 she'll receive $1,132. In reality, she'll receive a bit more because this simple example, illustrated in Social Security Administration charts, doesn't include potential annual inflation adjustments.) When you apply for a benefit based on her record next year, you'll get half the amount she was entitled to at 66. That's the maximum spousal benefit, even if your mate has postponed his or her application until age 70. But if your wife predeceases you, your survivor's benefit will be 100 percent of whatever amount she was getting when she died. (And vice versa.)

Finally, you won't be penalized for receiving a spousal benefit for four years. At 70, you can switch from that benefit to start collecting 132 percent of your own benefit.

The bottom line A couple can increase their monthly retirement income by postponing their applications for Social Security.

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