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Ask the Expert: Withdrawing a Social Security application

I'm 68 years old and currently collecting Social Security. My wife is 65 and will begin collecting her benefit in December. When she turns 66, can she collect half of my benefit, which will be higher? That's what we were told when I filed for Social Security. Now we're told she can't do that. They say in December she'll collect her benefit plus an extra $9 a month from mine. That's less than half my benefit would be when she's 66. She asked if she could forgo the extra $9 a month and wait until 66 to apply for mine, and was told no. We're not sure what to do.

The only way your wife can collect half your benefit is to withdraw her recent application and postpone filing for Social Security until 66, which is her full retirement age.

She can't exclude her spousal benefit from an early application: When you apply early, you're automatically filing for all the benefits to which you're entitled. She's currently eligible for her own benefit and a spousal benefit based on your record, both reduced because she's under her full retirement age. Her early application entitles her to an amount equal to the bigger of the two reduced benefits — i.e., her own benefit plus $9 based on your record.

She has a 12-month window in which to withdraw her application at a local Social Security office. If that's her choice, she shouldn't delay. When you withdraw a Social Security application, you must repay all the benefits you and your family have received based on that application. But she can remain enrolled in Medicare, which can bill her for premiums every three months.  

The bottom line

Most applicants can't start Social Security early and reapply later for a bigger benefit.

More information

ssa.gov/planners/retire/withdrawal.html

ssa.gov/planners/retire/applying6.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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