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When should unemployed spouse file for benefits?

I’m 62 years old and work full time. My wife is 65 and a homemaker. I know her spousal Social Security benefit won’t increase if she postpones taking it past her full retirement age. Would it be wise for me to start collecting my Social Security benefit now so she can start collecting hers?

No. You’re right that you must take your benefit before she can file for a spousal benefit. But the best strategy is to postpone your application until your full retirement age, because applying earlier permanently reduces your benefit.

For example, let’s say at full retirement age — in your case, 66 years and four months — your benefit (also called your PIA) is $2,000 a month. Apply at 62, and you get $1,466. And you might temporarily get less, because you’re still working. In 2018, people who work and collect Social Security while under their full retirement age temporarily forfeit $1 of benefit for each $2 they earn over $17,040. If you made $30,000, for example, $540 would be withheld from that $1,466 monthly benefit. You’d get $926.

Your wife’s maximum spousal benefit is 50 percent of your PIA — $1,000, in my example. But she won’t get it unless she delays her application until her full retirement age — 66, if she was born between 1943 and 1954. If she applies at 65, she gets $916. So in this example, if you both apply now, your combined benefits total $1,842 if you work or $2,382 if you don’t.

But if you apply at full retirement age, you receive your PIA no matter what you earn. She can then file for her maximum benefit. Together, you’d collect $3,000, plus your earnings if you still work.


Taking Social Security early permanently reduces your benefit.


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