Q: I'm 67 years old. I'm planning to wait until I'm 70 to apply for Social Security. (If I had taken my benefit at 66 -- my full retirement age -- I would have received $2,000 a month.)
My wife is 63, and her own full benefit at age 66 will be $800 a month.
It's unclear to us what would happen if she also waits until she's 70 to apply for Social Security. Is there any advantage to that? Would she then be eligible for a bigger spousal benefit -- i.e., half of the amount I receive at 70, instead of half of the amount I get at 66? --AP, via email
A: Based on what you say, there's no reason for your wife to delay applying for Social Security after she turns 66.
The delayed credits you can earn by postponing your application for your own benefit until you're 70 don't also boost your spouse's benefit.
During your lifetime the biggest Social Security benefit your wife can collect based on your work record is 50% of the amount you're eligible to receive at your full retirement age -- i.e., 66.
She can collect that maximum spousal benefit only if she waits until she herself turns 66 to apply for it.
But if she survives you, the fact that you delayed applying for Social Security until you're 70 will boost her widow's benefit: She'll be entitled to 100% of the benefit you were eligible to receive when you died.
Let's look at the numbers.
Your full Social Security benefit was $2,000 a month, so her maximum spousal benefit will be $1,000, plus any annual inflation adjustments since the year in which you turned 66. Given the difference in your ages, there will have been four years of inflation adjustments by the time she's 66.
Of course, she will have an alternative choice available to her when she turns 66: She could choose to apply for her spousal benefit alone, and postpone collecting her own benefit until she turns 70. Then she could switch from her spousal benefit to her own benefit.
That would make sense if her own benefit at 70 is going to bigger than her spousal benefit. But given the numbers, that's not the case.
At 70, her own benefit will be 32% larger than at 66 -- i.e., her original $800 benefit will become $1,056 (plus four years of annual inflation adjustments). But her $1,000 spousal benefit will almost certainly be bigger. By then, it will have been boosted by eight years of annual inflation adjustments.
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