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Spousal benefit is not for all married filers

I’m 55 and my husband is 61. I’ve always earned more than he does. We both want to delay Social Security until age 70 to receive 8 percent annual credit for four years of delay after reaching full retirement age. But I’ve heard that married couples can only collect one full benefit for the older spouse and one half-benefit for the younger spouse. It seems we’d get more if the older spouse were the higher earner. Since my husband will be 70 six years ahead of me, will I be unable to get extra credits on my higher benefit?

Certainly not. You’re both entitled to a full benefit plus credits for delayed application based on your own work records.

What you call a half-benefit is a spousal benefit, based on a husband or wife’s earnings. This benefit is equal to half your spouse’s benefit if you take it at your full retirement age, but less than half if you take it earlier.

No one can simultaneously collect a full benefit and a spousal benefit. The most you receive is the larger of the two amounts. But that doesn’t mean a couple is limited to one full benefit and one half-benefit!

Here’s what will happen.

At 70, your husband will file for his benefit, including the extra credits for four years of delay. You’ll be 64. If you apply for Social Security then, you’ll get whichever is bigger: your own benefit (reduced because you’ll be under age 66) or your spousal benefit (also reduced, for the same reason).

So, you won’t apply at 64. You’ll wait until you’re 70 — and then you’ll receive your own full benefit, plus the extra credits for four years of delay.

THE BOTTOM LINE Both spouses are entitled to Social Security based on their own work records.


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