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What are the requirements for Social Security spousal benefits?

Am I right that even if I postpone Social Security until I’m 70, at her full retirement age (66), my wife would only collect 50 percent of the amount I’d receive if I took my benefit at 66? If so, there’s no advantage for her to delay applying for her spousal benefit until she turns 70. Is that correct?

Yes. But depending on your respective ages, she may have to delay her application past age 66 anyway.

You’re right that during your lifetime, your wife’s maximum spousal benefit cannot be greater than 50 percent of the amount you’d receive at 66. That’s true regardless of the age at which you begin collecting Social Security. Her benefit is based on her own age at application, not yours.

You’re also right that to receive that 50 percent spousal benefit, she must wait until her full retirement age to apply for it.

But there is another requirement: Your wife cannot apply for her spousal benefit until you have filed for Social Security. If you delay your application until you’re 70, she must wait that long to apply for a spousal benefit, even if she reaches her full retirement age earlier. If you’re 67 when she turns 66, for example, it will be another three years before she can apply for a spousal benefit — and as you say, that delay won’t increase her benefit amount.

Under previous rules, it was possible to circumvent this problem. You could file for Social Security at your full retirement age to greenlight your spouse’s application, then immediately suspend your application, and reapply for an enhanced benefit after you turned 70. But Congress eliminated that option (aka “file and suspend”) in 2015.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Social Security rules aren’t written in stone. They can be changed by Congress.

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