I'll be 66 years old this July. My husband turns 66 in August 2020. He'll work at least until then and possibly until he's 67. Even if I wait until I'm 70 to apply for Social Security, my own benefit won't equal half of my husband's. Can I apply for my benefit at 66, and switch to a spousal benefit when he starts collecting Social Security? Or must I not collect anything until then?
You can start collecting your own benefit when you turn 66. You won't qualify for the bigger spousal benefit until your husband retires. That's when you can apply for it and switch benefits.
The key rules:
If you're married, you qualify for a spousal Social Security benefit based on your husband or wife's work record after your marriage has lasted one year. But you can't apply for that benefit until you're at least 62 years old and your spouse has applied for Social Security. If you're also eligible for Social Security based on your own work record, you receive an amount equal to the bigger of the two benefits.
If you're divorced, you can qualify for a benefit based on your ex's work record if your marriage lasted at least 10 years and you haven't remarried. But you can't apply for it until you're 62 years old and your ex-spouse is entitled to receive Social Security. Your ex doesn't need to have applied for his or her benefit. The entitlement requirement is met if he or she is at least 62 years old or qualifies for Social Security Disability. Again, if you're eligible for two benefits, you receive the bigger amount.
The bottom line
Married and divorced people can both qualify for Social Security spousal benefits, but their eligibility requirements are different.