Question: If a baby boomer wife decides to retire at 62 and then draw her Social Security, could she switch to her husband's benefit when he retires at age 66 later on? They filed jointly when they farmed.
Questions about Social Security benefits for a wife are very popular and today's topic but first, some basics. First, spousal benefits are payable to either wife or husband. If one is deceased, SSA survivor, not spousal, benefits might be payable to the widow or widower. The two are different. Survivor benefits might be payable even if a spousal benefit was not. Second, this article only concerns spousal benefits based on age. Computed differently, SSA spousal benefits also exist when young or disabled children are involved. For more information see (www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/yourspouse.htm).
To answer the question, yes, she could file for spousal benefits when her husband does. In practice, she would not actually switch from her record to his. She would still receive her own reduced retirement first with any additional amount from his record added on.
A larger question is whether she would be eligible for benefits as a spouse at all. Her own retirement could be high enough to make her ineligible for spousal benefits, a likely event if the couple split self-employment earnings equally or if both had full-time employment.
When considering entitlement as a spouse, Social Security compares the full retirement age (FRA) amount of each person, not benefit amounts received. This is important. If she begins a reduced SSA retirement at age 62, and he waits until age 66, comparing monthly amounts received will not provide an accurate picture. An easy way to see if spousal benefits will be involved is to compare the couple's individual FRA amounts. Whether wife or husband, if your own FRA amount is less than one-half of your spouse's FRA amount, you will likely receive a spousal benefit. Use the online Retirement Estimator at (www.socialsecurity. gov/retire2/ to get your estimated FRA amount).
Comparing FRA's tells only if a spousal benefit is likely, not how much it might be. Determining the amount is a separate issue, not discussed today, other than to say the popular understanding of a wife receiving one-half of the husband's amount is often untrue. One-half of the higher FRA amount is the highest possible spousal benefit, with the spouses own retirement benefit included towards that amount.
Age 66, assumed here to be the husband's FRA, may not be his best option for starting SSA retirement. Depending on his specific situation such as his work expectations, possible payment to family members, and other family income, he might find it better to start SSA benefits earlier or later. FRA is just a point in time. With the amount of reduction or increase based on the number of months involved, benefits started prior to FRA are reduced while those started afterwards are increased. Use the (www.socialsecurity.gov) Retirement Planner tools, specifically at (www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2) in your planning.
Retirement, spousal, Medicare and disability applications are available online at (www.socialsecurity.gov) along with other services. You can also call the SSA national toll-free number 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. about your benefits or to make an appointment. Reach the Minot office directly at 866-415-3193 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Howard I. Kossover is the Social Security Public Affairs Specialist for North Dakota and western Minnesota. Questions of general interest can be sent to him at email@example.com.