Ask Rusty – Will My Wife Get a Spouse Benefit When I Claim at 70?
Dear Rusty: My wife started receiving her social security at 65 (her full retirement age) and she will be 69 years old this July. I was able to receive half of her social security under an older law. This April, I will turn 70 and will start to receive my own Social Security. I know I will no longer be receiving a spousal benefit at that time, but what I don't understand is will my wife be able to claim a spousal benefit and collect 50% of my Social Security. She presently is receiving about $930 but 50% of my social security could be around $1800. Can you provide any insight on this? Signed: Turning 70
Dear Turning: You are correct that you are now collecting your spouse benefit under an "old law," which was changed by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 and is no longer available to anyone born after January 1, 1954. You are also correct that since you are now receiving a spousal benefit from your wife on a "restricted application for spouse benefits only," you can claim your personal SS retirement benefit to start at age 70, at which time your spousal benefit from your wife will stop. You can apply for your age 70 benefit now, prior to April, but just be sure to specify on your application that you want your SS retirement benefit to begin in April (to avoid a reduction). FYI, you can do this online at www.ssa.gov - there is a question on the application which asks if you are now collecting benefits from anyone else, to which you should answer "yes" and provide your wife's Social Security number. To apply online, you'll need to first create your personal "my Social Security" account, which is easy to do at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. Of course, you can also apply by phone at your local SS office or by calling 1.800.772.1213 but applying online is by far the most efficient method.
After you have submitted your application for your own SS retirement benefit, your wife can apply for a spousal benefit from you, but her spousal benefit amount may not be precisely as you believe. First, your wife's spousal benefit will be based on the benefit amount you were entitled to at your full retirement age (FRA) of 66, not your age 70 benefit amount. Second, your wife was born in 1953 so her full retirement age is 66 (not 65). If your wife claimed her own SS benefit at age 65, she actually claimed a year early, so it was slightly reduced from her full benefit amount. That isn't a bad thing because it allowed you to collect your spouse benefit a year earlier, but it will slightly affect her spousal benefit from you and make it a bit less than 50% of your FRA benefit amount.
When a spouse takes their own benefit early their spousal amount will be less than 50% because of the way spouse benefits are calculated. Your wife's new benefit as your spouse will consist of two parts - her own benefit and a "spousal boost" to bring her payment to her spousal entitlement. Her "spousal boost" - which is the difference between her FRA benefit and half of your FRA benefit - will be added to her slightly reduced age 65 benefit and the total becomes her spousal payment, but it will be a bit less than 50% of your FRA benefit amount. Nevertheless, you were smart to take advantage of an ”old law” which permitted you to get a spouse benefit from your wife while your own benefit grew to maximum.