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Ask the Expert: Know the rules to maximize Social Security, Medicare

I'll take Social Security at age 70. My wife will reach her full retirement age (FRA) shortly afterward. Can she then apply for spousal benefits? Am I right that she'll get half of my full retirement benefit, not half the amount I receive at age 70?

I didn't sign up for Medicare at 65 because I'm covered at work and my employer has more than 20 employees. Am I right that I won't incur a higher Medicare Part B premium for this delay? Must my spouse sign up for Medicare at 65, or can she delay it because she's covered under my workplace insurance?

Your wife can apply for a spousal benefit anytime after she's 62 and you've filed for Social Security. You're right that if she applies at her FRA, she'll receive half of your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). Your PIA is the benefit you qualified for at your FRA, plus any subsequent adjustments (like annual cost-of-living increases).

She won't get half of the benefit you receive at age 70, which is boosted by delayed retirement credits. Spousal benefits don't include those credits. But survivor benefits do: As your widow, she can receive 100 percent of the amount you were collecting when you died.

You're also right about the Medicare rules. If you have health coverage either through your own current job or your spouse's current job at a company with 20 or more workers when you turn 65, your Medicare enrollment deadline is eight months after the coverage or the job ends, whichever comes first. But if you're covered by an employer with fewer than 20 workers, your Medicare deadline is three months after your 65th birthday — and if you miss it, your Part B premium is permanently higher.

The bottom line

It pays to study the Social Security and Medicare rules.

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