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Ask the Expert: How to calculate your spousal benefits

I’m expecting to receive a 50 percent spousal Social Security benefit based on my husband’s work record. But if he applies for Social Security before his full retirement age, I know he’ll collect a reduced benefit amount. So how do I calculate my spousal benefit? Should I expect to receive 50 percent of his reduced benefit amount, or 50 percent of his original full retirement amount?

The calculation that determines your spousal benefit is based on your own age when you apply for it, not on your husband’s age when he began collecting Social Security.

If you apply at your full retirement age, you’ll collect the maximum spousal benefit, which is 50 percent of your husband’s Primary Insurance Amount, or PIA. His PIA is the amount he’d receive if he started collecting Social Security at his full retirement age.

A quick reminder: People born between 1943 and 1954 reach their full retirement age at 66 for Social Security purposes. For those born later, full retirement age gradually rises in two-month increments until it reaches 67 for everyone born in 1960 or later.

Let’s say that you and your husband both reach full retirement age at 66 and that his PIA is $2,000 a month. If he takes Social Security at age 62, he’ll collect only 75 percent of his PIA — $1,500. But that won’t affect your spousal benefit. If you wait until you turn 66 to apply for it, you’ll receive 50 percent of your husband’s PIA, or $1,000. By contrast, if you apply for your spousal benefit at age 62, you’ll get only 35 percent of his PIA — $700.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The calculation that determines your spousal Social Security benefit depends on your age when you start collecting it, not on your spouse’s age when he or she filed for Social Security.

MORE INFORMATION

ssa.gov/planners/retire/1943.html

ssa.gov/oact/quickcalc/spouse.html

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