Ask Larry: Will My Wife’s Spousal Benefit Be 50% Of My Benefit At 70 If She Files At 62?

Today’s column addresses questions about how spousal benefits are calculated after early retirement benefits when the record holder delays until 70, whether spousal benefits are 50% of age 70 benefits and when survivor’s benefits may become available to surviving spouses. 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.

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Will My Wife’s Spousal Benefit Be 50% of My Benefit At 70 If She Files At 62?

Hi Larry, If my wife files at 62 for her own benefit, she will receive reduced benefit of approximately $600. When I file at 67, my FRA benefit is $2,900. Can she switch to the spousal 50% $1,450 because she will also be at her FRA, or will that be also reduced because she initially filed earlier before her FRA? Thanks, Steve

Hi Steve, A person cannot switch from drawing their own Social Security retirement benefits to drawing just a spousal benefit. If your wife files for her retirement benefits prior to her full retirement age (FRA), the reduction applied to her benefit rate will continue for at least as long as both of you are living.

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She could potentially qualify for additional, or excess, spousal benefits when you start drawing your benefits though and whether or not her spousal rate would be reduced for age would depend on your wife’s age when you start drawing your benefits.

For example, say Amy files for her benefits at age 62. Amy’s retirement benefit will be reduced. After Amy reaches FRA, her spouse, files for their retirement benefits and Amy’s excess spousal rate is then calculated by subtracting her primary insurance amount (PIA), which is equal to her full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount, from Bill’s PIA. That would then be paid in addition to Amy’s own reduced retirement benefit rate.

But if Bill had started drawing his benefits before Amy reached FRA, her spousal rate would have also been reduced for age.

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


How Will My Wife’s Spousal Benefit Rate Be Calculated?

Hi Larry, My wife and I were each born in 1955. My wife is seven months older than me and will draw her Social Security retirement at her full retirement age. I will take my Social Security retirement benefit at 70 and it will be more than twice my wife’s retirement benefit. What will be my wife’s spousal benefit amount when I file at 70?

Will it be half of my full retirement age benefit or will it be half of my age 70 benefit? I feel that if it would be very unfair if it was only half my FRA amount. Thanks, Ted

Hi Ted, Spousal benefits are calculated based on 50% of the record holder’s primary insurance amount (PIA), regardless of when the record holder applies for their benefits. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA). Also, spousal benefits can’t be paid for any months prior to when the record holder starts drawing their benefits.

A person can only be paid up to the higher of their own Social Security retirement benefit rate or 50% of their spouse’s PIA so when you apply for your benefits, your wife’s spousal rate will be calculated by subtracting her PIA from 50% of your PIA. If this is greater than $0, they will receive it as an excess spousal benefit in addition to their retirement benefit amount.

I should point out that widow’s benefits can be calculated based on 100% of the deceased worker’s benefit rate including any applicable delayed retirement credits (DRCs). So if you wait until 70 to start drawing your benefits and you subsequently die with a benefit rate of e.g. $3,700, your widow could be paid up to that full amount. Your widow couldn’t get both her own benefit and her widow’s benefit though, just the higher of the two amounts. Best, Larry


Can I Now Receive My Deceased Husband’s Benefits?

Hi Larry, When my husband passed away suddenly in 2002, we had been together for years but only been married nine months. When he passed his, only surviving daughter of course received his benefits but she subsequently passed away. I’ve been told I can now receive his benefits. Is this true? Thanks, Janine

Hi Janine, I’m sorry for your loss.

You can’t be paid your husband’s actual benefits, but if you were married for at least a full nine months, then you may be eligible for survivor’s benefits. If your marriage lasted less than nine months, you’d need to meet one of the exceptions to the duration of marriage requirement. And by the way, the fact that your husband’s daughter apparently collected survivor benefits on his record would have no effect on whether or not you could qualify.

You must be at least 60, or at least 50 and disabled, to potentially qualify for widow’s benefits. You must also be unmarried, or if you’re married, your current marriage must have occurred after you turned 60. If you think that you may qualify for widow’s benefits, you may want to contact Social Security to discuss your options. Best, Larry


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