Social Security Spousal Benefits: One More Key to Your Social Security Decision

Can a spouse collect on her husband’s social security if she reaches retirement age before her husband? No. In order for a wife to start receiving Social Security benefits on her husband’s earnings the following conditions have to be satisfied:

1. The wife is required to be at least age 62

2. The husband must be eligible for benefits, therefore he should also be at least age 62. Furthermore, the husband must actually apply for Social Security retirement benefits for his wife to collect based on his earnings. The husband can then choose to postpone receiving benefits. This course of action is known as “file and suspend”.

To provide an illustration, if the wife is 62 and the husband is 60, the wife can begin collecting benefits calculated on her income, but she is unable to receive benefits based on her husband’s income until he turns 62 and applies for benefits.

On the other hand, if the wife is 66 and her spouse is only 62, then the wife can begin receiving as determined by her husband’s earnings (again the husband will need to sign up for his Social Security before the spouse can collect based on his income).

In the instances shown above, the wife can begin receiving benefits calculated on her own income as soon as she turns age 62 (assuming she has at least forty quarters of earnings and qualifies for benefits on her own), then change to half of her husband’s benefit as soon as her husband qualifies for Social Security.

A couple of items to give some thought to before applying for benefits:

If a wife applies for Social Security spousal benefits as determined by her husband’s earnings when she attains full retirement age (age 66 for people retiring now), then she will receive half of her husband’s primary insurance amount (PIA). However, if she applies at age 62, her benefit will only be 35% of her husband’s PIA.

It does not benefit the spouse to wait until after reaching full retirement age to apply for benefits, as spousal benefits will not include delayed credits. In addition, it won’t benefit the wife if the husband waits to apply for benefits because she will not receive any increase in benefits that he receives by waiting to collect benefits.

Where a spouse gets to full retirement age and is eligible for a spousal benefit or her own benefit, she may start receiving the spousal benefit now and delay taking her own benefit so she can build up delayed credits on her own benefit.

You can collect Social Security spousal benefits based on an ex-spouse’s income if you were married for at least 10 years and you are also presently unmarried. In case you have more than one ex-spouse that you meet the requirements for spousal benefits, you’ll receive the highest benefit you qualify for. One benefit that divorced spouses have over married spouses is that a divorced spouse doesn’t need to wait for a former husband to start collecting benefits as long as the pair is divorced for not less than two years when she applies.

* Finally, the Social Security retirement program is gender neutral, so even though this article has assumed that the wife is generally the one applying for spousal benefits, if the wife earns more than the husband, the husband can apply for spousal benefits based on his wife’s earnings.

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