Ask Larry: Can My Wife File At 62 And Still Get Full Spousal Benefits At Full Retirement Age?

Today’s column addresses questions about spousal benefit rates after taking early retirement benefits, when the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reductions are applied and potential filing options after a divorce. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Can My Wife File At 62 And Still Get Full Spousal Benefits at Full Retirement Age?

Hi Larry, I am 74 and have been drawing my full benefits since my full retirement age (currently $2,315 per month). My wife is 62 and eligible for early retirement benefits. Her full retirement at age 66 and eight months is $1,169 and her age 62 benefit is $841.

If she starts drawing her early retirement of $841, will she still be able to get a spousal benefit equal to half of mine at her full retirement age or would it be reduced and if reduced, by how much? Thanks, Dave


Hi Dave, First, your wife would never be eligible for spousal benefits if her primary insurance amount (PIA) is more than half as much as your PIA. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA). So if your PIA is $2,315 and your wife’s PIA is $1,169, she won’t be eligible for spousal benefits at any age.

Even if your PIA was more than twice as much as your wife’s PIA, though, she couldn’t file for her own benefits at 62 and then claim spousal benefits at full retirement age (FRA). No matter when your wife files for either her own benefits or for spousal benefits, she’ll be deemed to be filing for both benefits at the same time since she was born after 1/1/1954. She could only be paid basically the higher of the two benefit rates, and her rate will be reduced for age if she starts drawing prior to FRA.

Your wife may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully analyze the options available to her in order to determine her best strategy for maximizing her benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

When Will WEP Start In My Case?

Hi Larry, I have 30 years of work and paying into the government pension system in Belgium. I will receive the Belgian pension at 66. This is set in stone and there is no way to start that earlier for me. I also have 10 years of paying into US Social Security and can start collecting that at 62. I no longer work in either country.

Under the WEP rules, will I receive my full US amount from 62 to 66 and then face a reduction from WEP when the Belgian pension kicks in or does the WEP reduction occur at 62 even though I am not collecting the Belgian pension yet? Thanks, Peter

Hi Peter, The windfall elimination provision (WEP) won’t apply to your Social Security retirement benefit rate until the first month of your entitlement to the Belgian pension.

“Entitlement” as defined by Social Security means that you’ve applied for and been approved for the benefit. In most cases, a person’s entitlement month is synonymous with the effective month that they start collecting their non-covered pension. That’s not always the case with defined contribution plans though, but that’s apparently not involved in your case.

So if you start drawing your Social Security retirement benefits at 62 and if you don’t start drawing your Belgian pension until 66, then WEP wouldn’t reduce your Social Security benefit until you turn 66. But your Social Security benefits would be reduced for age, and that percentage reduction will continue to apply for as long as you live. Best, Larry

What Would My Best Strategy Be?

Hi Larry, I am turning 65 in March. I was married over 10 years and divorced over 2 years. I have not yet started my Social Security benefits and I am not remarried. I’m trying to find the best strategy for my Social Security benefits. I’m still working, and at full retirement age I’d collect $985. I don’t know ex’s retirement benefits but she’s over 62. Thanks, Drew

Hi Drew, When you apply for either your own Social Security retirement benefits or divorced spousal benefits, you’ll be required to file for both benefits at the same time. You can’t file for divorced spousal benefits without also filing for your own benefits at the same time, because only people born prior to 1/2/1954 are permitted to do that.

Your benefit rate if you file for your benefits at full retirement age (FRA) will be equal to the higher of a) your own primary insurance amount (PIA), or b) 50% of your ex-spouse’s PIA. If you start drawing prior to FRA your benefit rate would be reduced for age, but if you wait past FRA to start collecting, then delayed retirement credits would be added to your PIA. Best, Larry

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