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Ask the Expert: Rules for Social Security spousal benefits

My husband will be 67 in May. He hasn't worked in over 20 years. During that time, he took care of our children and his elderly father while I worked. He began taking Social Security at 62. I'm only 57. When I retire, would he be entitled to spousal benefits, which would be more than he is receiving now?

Yes. When you start Social Security, your husband can file for a spousal benefit based on your work record. If his spousal benefit is bigger than his own benefit, he'll receive the larger amount.

All Social Security rules apply to both genders. Here's what you need to know.

The earliest you can file for Social Security is age 62. But if you're now 57, your full retirement age for Social Security purposes is 67. At 62, you'd collect only 79.6 percent of your full retirement benefit. For example, let's say that your benefit at 67 would be $2,400 a month. If you applied for Social Security at 62, you'd get $1,910.40 a month. The discount is permanent. Although you'd receive the same annual cost-of-living benefit increases as other Social Security recipients, your benefit would always be smaller than if you'd taken it later.

Your husband's spousal benefit will be based on his age when he applies for it. In my example, his maximum spousal benefit would be $1,200 — half the amount you're entitled to at your full retirement age. But he'll receive less because he took his own benefit before reaching his full retirement age (FRA). Let's say his benefit at FRA would have been $800, for example, but he received only $590 because he took it early. When he applies for a spousal benefit, the difference between $1,200 and $800 ($400) will be added to his monthly check. His new benefit will be $990.

The bottom line

The size of a spousal Social Security benefit depends on the applicant's age when he or she files for it. But if you took your own benefit before reaching full retirement age, you'll get a discounted spousal benefit, even if you don't apply for it until you reach your full retirement age.

More information

ssa.gov/planners/retire/applying6.html

ssa.gov/planners/calculators/

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the size of the spousal benefit when the applicant takes his own benefit before reaching full retirement age.

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday, 6 Corporate Center Dr., Melville, NY 11747, or email act2@newsday.com. Include your name, address and phone numbers. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own consultants for your specific needs.

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