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Ask the Expert: Social Security and spousal benefits

I already collect Social Security. My wife turns 66 next March. She wants to collect Social Security and work part time. She doesn't know if she should collect her own benefit, or collect a spousal benefit and let her own keep growing. How is the amount of my benefit affected if she draws on my record?

Her taking a spousal benefit based on your record won't have any impact on the size of your monthly check. Based on what you say, together the two benefits will add up to at least 150 percent of the Social Security you receive now.

But if your wife was born in March 1954, she won't have the option of postponing her own benefit while collecting her spousal benefit. That choice — known as filing a "restricted application" for a spousal benefit — is now available only to people born on or before Jan. 1, 1954.

Being ineligible to file a restricted application, she'll automatically be applying for all the Social Security benefits to which she's entitled — that is, both for her own benefit and for her spousal benefit. She'll receive an amount equal to the larger of the two.

On the plus side, since she'll be applying at her full retirement age, neither benefit will be discounted. She'll qualify to collect her own full benefit or maximum spousal benefit. The latter will be 50 percent of the amount you were entitled to receive at your full retirement age, plus any annual cost of living adjustments since then. This is true even if you took Social Security before your full retirement age and are, therefore, collecting a discounted benefit.

The bottom line

The size of your spouse's Social Security benefit based on your work record doesn't reduce the amount of your benefit.

More information

ssa.gov/planners/retire/applying6.html

ssa.gov/planners/retire/claiming.html

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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