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Ask the Expert: Social Security options are limited for early filers

If my husband takes Social Security at his full retirement age, when I'll be 63 years old, can I collect benefits under his work record until I reach my full retirement age?

You can take a spousal Social Security benefit at 63. But if you do, you won’t be able to switch to your own benefit when you reach your full retirement age.

You must meet three conditions to apply for a spousal...

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If my husband takes Social Security at his full retirement age, when I'll be 63 years old, can I collect benefits under his work record until I reach my full retirement age?

You can take a spousal Social Security benefit at 63. But if you do, you won’t be able to switch to your own benefit when you reach your full retirement age.

You must meet three conditions to apply for a spousal benefit — in other words, a benefit based on his or her record:

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1) Your spouse has filed for Social Security.

2) You’re at least 62 years old. And,

3) You've been married for at least one year.  

But if you want to apply only for a spousal benefit, postponing your application for your own benefit, you must also:

4) Have reached your full retirement age.

5) Be applying for Social Security for the first time. And,

6) Have been born on or before Jan. 1, 1954.

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The best-known disadvantage of taking Social Security before you reach your full retirement age is that any benefit you start early will be permanently reduced. A less well-known disadvantage is that when you file for Social Security before your full retirement age, you’re automatically applying for all the benefits you qualify to receive.

If you're eligible for both a spousal benefit and a benefit based on your own work record, you’re applying for both — and you get an amount equal to the larger of the two. You can’t reapply later for a bigger benefit.

(But note: Rules for widows and widowers are different. A surviving spouse can apply before retirement age for a reduced widow or widower's benefit and postpone his or her own unreduced benefit until full retirement age, and vice versa.)

THE BOTTOM LINE

Taking Social Security early limits your options.

MORE INFORMATION

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