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Ask the Expert: Requirements for Social Security spousal benefits

I’m 65 years old, and I started taking Social Security at 64. My benefit is $615 a month. My husband’s benefit will be much higher than mine. He’s 61. When he turns 66, will I be able to collect on his benefit? I think I may have been misinformed when I applied for Social Security. I realize that in April, a window closed for spousal benefits, but was that window for all Social Security benefits for spouses?

Let’s start by reassuring everyone. Spousal benefits weren’t eliminated in April! The window closing you refer to was the termination of a specific Social Security filing strategy called “file-and-suspend” — a strategy most people didn’t use.

To collect a Social Security benefit based on your spouse’s record, you must meet these requirements:

1. You must be at least 62

2. You must be married for at least one year

3. Your spouse must have applied for Social Security

4. Your spousal benefit must be bigger than the one you’re entitled to on your own record. When you’re eligible for two benefits, you receive only the larger of the two.

It sounds as if you’ll meet all four requirements after your husband files for his benefit. And you’ll be 66 when you apply for it — your full retirement age — so you’ll qualify for the maximum spousal benefit. That’s 50 percent of the amount your husband will receive when he’s 66 years old.

If his benefit is $1,900 a month, for example, your spousal benefit is $950 a month. If your own benefit is bigger, you won’t collect anything based on his record. If your own benefit is smaller, you can switch to the larger spousal benefit.

THE BOTTOM LINE Married couples still qualify for Social Security benefits based on each other’s work records.


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