I called my local Social Security office, and was treated rudely for even asking such about the option. The individual I spoke with indicated he was an expert and knew of no such option. He actually disconnected the call. I next called the national number, and talked to a very nice person who also denied that such a option existed. She said she had extensive experience and knew the regulations.
Would you be able to cite some specific Social Security documents that I could refer them to? --TS via email
A: Yes. This rule is clearly stated on the Social Security Administration's own website here.
Here is the relevant language: "If you are full retirement age, you can apply for retirement benefits and then request to have payments suspended. That way, your spouse can receive a spouse's benefit and you can continue to earn delayed retirement credits until age 70."
This option -- and the others described in my magazine article -- are seldom used. As a result, Social Security staff aren't always familiar with them; but of course that's no excuse for rudeness. Be patient and persistent! Other readers report they've had to speak with more than one person at the agency to find someone who knows these rules.
Q: I'm 62 years old, and my husband is 67. He's collecting his benefit. I called Social Security and asked about receiving my spousal benefit now, while delaying my own benefit until I reach FRA. The representative told me I could either take my own benefit now OR receive 35% of my husband's, whichever is higher. She said I didn't have the option of receiving a spousal benefit now, and delaying receipt of my own until FRA. Is this correct? --MR via email
A: Yes. The problem is that you are only 62.
You don't have this option until you're at FRA -- in your case, age 66.
Here's the rule: " If your spouse has reached full retirement age and is eligible for a spouse's benefit and his or her own retirement benefit, he or she has a choice. Your spouse can choose to receive only the spouse's benefit now and delay receiving retirement benefits until a later date. If retirement benefits are delayed, a higher benefit may be received at a later date based on the effect of delayed retirement credits."
Q: I'm 62 and expect to work until I'm 66, my FRA. My wife, also 62, has retired. Here's what I haven't been able to determine: If she claims her own reduced benefit now at 62, can she still get a full spousal benefit -- i.e., 50% of my benefit -- when she's 66? If the answer is yes, then she should claim her own benefit now, because it's "free" money that will be lost forever if she doesn't claim it. But if filing for her own reduced benefit now means that her spousal benefit will also be reduced, she'll hold off so that we can collect the maximum amount when we're 66. -- MH via email
A: Sorry, no "free" money! If your wife files for her own benefit at 62, and then files for her spousal benefit at 66, she will end up with less than 50% of your benefit.
But the choice isn't quite as open and shut as that sounds. There's a trade-off involved, and it's easier to explain with numbers:
Let's assume her own benefit at her FRA is $300 a month. She files for it at 62, so she gets only $225 a month. When she's 66, you retire and she can file for her spousal benefit. We'll say that your benefit at FRA is $1,000. That makes your wife's maximum spousal benefit $500 a month.
Here's how Social Security will calculate her spousal benefit, says Jane Zanca, an agency spokeswoman in New York City: They'll take her $500 maximum spousal benefit, and subtract her own maximum benefit of $300 -- the amount she would have received at her FRA. The difference is $200. Because she's 66, she's eligible to receive the full $200. Her monthly check at 66 will include her own reduced benefit ($225) plus her maximum spousal benefit ($200). The result: She'll get $425 a month.
By contrast, if she waits until she's 66 to apply for Social Security, she'll get her own full $300 benefit plus the difference between that $300 and her $500 maximum spousal benefit -- i.e., $200. The result: Her monthly check will be $500.
In this particular example, she gets an extra four years of benefits that add up to $10,800, and her longterm benefit is $50 a month smaller. Only you can decide if the trade-off is worthwhile.
Q: I am 64, and I want to wait until I'm 67 to start my Social Security. I have a good job, and earn $90,000 annually. My wife, who is 63, also qualifies for Social Security (barely). She no longer has a job. We don't want to leave any money on the table between now and when I turn 66. What are your suggestions? -SL via email
A: One option is for your wife to file her own small benefit now, and for her larger spousal benefit after you apply for Social Security, as described above.
Or, when you turn 66 (and your wife is 65) you can follow the strategy described in the first question on this page: You apply for your benefit, so that she can apply for her spousal benefit, and then you voluntarily suspend your own payments. If you do that, she can start receiving her spousal benefit when she's 65. But since she'll be a year shy of FRA, she'll receive a little less than 50% of your benefit; and the reduction will be permanent.
Or you can both maximize your benefits by just filing for them at FRA.
Please send your questions to Lynn@LynnBrennersFamilyFinance.com. I'm sorry I can't respond personally to every email. Questions are only addressed online.
(c) Lynn Brenner, All Rights Reserved