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Ask the Expert: Delay benefits, if you can wait

In general, it's better to spend savings and

In general, it's better to spend savings and delay taking Social Security. Credit: iStock

My husband plans to retire and start collecting Social Security at age 66. I'll be 62 when he turns 66. If I apply then for my spousal benefit, will I get half of his benefit, or will I get less because I am taking it before my full retirement age?


You'll get a permanently reduced spousal benefit if you apply for it at 62. Although you'll receive annual inflation adjustments, your monthly check will always be smaller than if you had waited until your full retirement age to start collecting it.

Your maximum potential spousal benefit is 50 percent of the amount your husband receives at his full retirement age. But at 62, you will qualify for only 35 percent of his full benefit. If your husband's monthly benefit is $2,000, for example, your spousal benefit is $1,000 if you don't claim it until age 66. If you take it at age 62, you get $700 a month.

And that's not the only disadvantage of filing early. When you apply for Social Security before your full retirement age, you can't restrict your application to your spousal benefit alone. You'll also automatically be filing for a benefit based on your own work record. Since you're 62, your own benefit will be only 75 percent of the amount you would get at your full retirement age. The upshot: You'll receive whichever is more -- your own reduced benefit or your reduced spousal benefit.

If you don't file until you're 66, you'll have two options. You can apply for both benefits -- unreduced -- and collect an amount equal to the larger of the two. Or you can restrict your application to your spousal benefit and postpone your own benefit for up to four years while it grows 8 percent a year.

The bottom line Your benefit is always smaller when you take Social Security early.

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