Ask Rusty – How Do We Apply for My Wife’s Spousal Benefit?
Dear Rusty: I am 70 years old and just started receiving my Social Security benefits about 4 months ago and I get close to $3700 per month. My wife is 65 years old and worked sporadically over the years so is entitled to her own benefits. If we applied under her account, she would get around $300 a month. If she applies under the spousal benefits, she should get a lot more, but we are not exactly sure how to apply for spousal benefits under her existing account. Can you help guide us? Signed: Uncertain How to Proceed
Dear Uncertain: Your wife can apply for both her own SS retirement benefit (from her own lifetime work record) and her spousal benefit from you, at the same time. In fact, when she applies for her own Social Security benefit, since you are now collecting your benefits she will be automatically deemed to be filing also for her spousal benefit from you.
Your wife’s Social Security payment will actually consist of two elements – her own earned benefit and a “spousal boost” to bring her to her spousal entitlement. So, when she applies for her own SS benefit, she will also get a spousal boost to make her payment equal to what she is entitled to as your spouse. She can apply by calling Social Security at your local office or calling the national service center at 1.800.772.1213 to request an appointment. She also has the option to apply for her benefits online at www.ssa.gov which is, by far, the most efficient way. To apply online, your wife will need to first create her personal “my Social Security” online account, which is easy to do at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. When your wife fills out the application for her benefits, she will be able to identify you as her spouse, and she should use the “Remarks” section of the application to emphasize that she wishes to receive her spousal benefits as well.
Just for your awareness, your wife’s spousal benefit will be based on your full retirement age (FRA) benefit amount, not your age 70 amount, and if she claims at age 65 her benefits will be reduced because she hasn’t yet reached her own full retirement age (which is 66 years and 4 months if she was born in 1956). Your wife’s personal benefit will be reduced by .556% for each month earlier than her FRA that she claims, and her spousal boost will be reduced by .694% for each month earlier than her FRA she claims. So, if your wife claims her benefit before her full retirement age, her payment will be less than 50% of your FRA benefit amount.