I want to delay Social Security until 2026, when I’ll be 65. My wife wants to start her benefit in 2024 when she’s 62. Can I collect spousal benefits on her record when she takes Social Security, and then switch to my own benefit at 65? Will she then automatically bump up to a spousal benefit on my record, which will be more money? Or can she continue collecting her own benefit, and then switch to her spousal benefit at age 67 when it would max out?

No, no and no.

Let's take your scenarios in order.

1. Your wife takes Social Security in 2024, when she's 62 and you're 63. You can file for Social Security at that point; but you can’t restrict your application to your spousal benefit. You'll automatically be applying for your own benefit as well. Since you’ll only be 63, both benefits will be permanently reduced. You'll get the larger of the two amounts.

You won't be able to switch to your own benefit at 65. You’ll already be collecting it.

2. You delay taking Social Security until you're 65. Your wife can then apply to switch from her own benefit to her spousal benefit. But her spousal benefit may not be the larger amount. First, she'll be applying for it at 64, rather than at 67, her full retirement age. Second, her early application for her own benefit will automatically have reduced the size of her spousal benefit. For both reasons, her spousal benefit will be reduced. Even if she doesn't apply for it until she's 67, she won’t qualify for the maximum amount because she took her own benefit early.

The bottom line

Starting Social Security benefits before your full retirement age permanently reduces the amount(s) you're eligible to collect.

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