Q: I am 67 years old and I filed for my Social Security when I was 62. My husband will be 66 in June 2012. At 66, we would like for him to file for spousal benefits based on my Social Security, and allow his own benefits to continue to grow, probably until he is 68. Can we do this? If so, how? - RB
A: Yes, you can.
The Social Security rule book says if you're married, you can't apply for a spousal benefit until your husband or wife has applied for Social Security. (There's a different rule for eligible divorced people.) It also says that if you're at full retirement age when you apply for Social Security, you can restrict your application to the spousal benefit alone, postponing your own benefit until a later date.
Your husband will meet both these requirements when he turns 66.
And here's more good news:
You applied for Social Security at 62, before reaching your full retirement age. As a result, you received a reduced benefit. If your full benefit at 66 would have been $1,000, for example, at 62 you received only $750. Although you will get annual Social Security inflation adjustments, your check will always be smaller than if you had applied for Social Security at your full retirement age.
But your husband will be at his full retirement age when he applies for a spousal benefit. As a result, he'll get the maximum amount -- half of what you'd be getting if you had waited until 66 to apply. In this example, that would be 50% of your full $1,000 retirement benefit plus any inflation adjustments it has earned.
Your husband should call Social Security and make an appointment at one of its local offices. It's better to make this application in person than on the phone, because although the rules I'm describing are well-established, they still aren't often used and some agency reps are unfamiliar with them. (For more about that, see my article for AARP Bulletin.)
Before going to the appointment, he should go online and print out the agency's rule describing this stragegy, to take with him. You'll find it here, halfway down the page:
<<If you have reached your full retirement age, and are eligible for a spouse's or ex-spouse's benefit and your own retirement benefit, you may choose to receive only spouse's benefits. If you do that, you can delay receiving your own retirement benefit until a later date to take advantage of delayed retirement credits.>>
He should ask to restrict his application to his spousal benefit alone.
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