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Calculating spousal Social Security benefit

Only one spouse in a marriage can collect

Only one spouse in a marriage can collect a spousal Social Security benefit. Credit: iStock

My wife is 64; I am 65. We both intend to wait until full retirement at 66 to collect Social Security. Could we both file at 66, each of us restricting the application to our spousal benefit while our own benefits grow until we've turned 70?


No. You can both postpone your primary benefit until age 70. But only one of you can collect a spousal benefit in the meantime.

Three rules explain why.

1. Nobody can apply for a benefit based on a spouse's earnings until that person has filed for his or her primary benefit.

2. You must be at full retirement age to restrict an application to your spousal benefit, or to file and then suspend an application for your own benefit.

3. If applying simultaneously for your primary and your spousal benefit, you will get the larger of the two.

This means you can't apply for a spousal benefit at 66 because your wife won't yet have filed for her primary benefit (see Rule 1). When she turns 66, she can green-light your application by filing for her primary benefit and then immediately suspend that application (see Rule 2). The result: Each spouse has postponed his/her primary benefit until age 70, and one spouse (you) is collecting a spousal benefit.

But your wife can't apply for a spousal benefit based on your record because you won't yet have filed for your primary benefit. What if you facilitate that by filing for your benefit and suspending the application? You're already collecting a spousal benefit. If you apply for your own, too — even if you suspend the application — you'll immediately be eligible only for an amount equal to the larger of the two (see rule 3).

THE BOTTOM LINE Only one spouse in a marriage can collect a spousal Social Security benefit.


TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert / Act 2, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747, or email Include your name, address and phone number. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own advisers for your specific needs.


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