Did I make a mistake with my Social Security?

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Q. I started collecting my Social Security at age 63. My husband turned 66 at the same time, and he started to collect his Social Security at age 66 and 2 months. Can I claim my spousal amount of Social Security, or did I make a mistake by collecting my own benefit early?
— Looking for more

A. Choosing when and how to take Social Security is one of the biggest questions retirees face.

Without knowing the details of your situation, such as benefit amounts and work history, we can tell you how it generally works.

To qualify for a spousal benefit, there are two basic criteria that need to be met, said Michael Green, a certified financial planner with Wechter Feldman Wealth Management in Parsippany.

First, you must be at least 62 years old.

“Additionally, your spouse must be drawing their own retirement benefit before you can claim a spousal benefit on their work record,” Green said. “If your spouse hasn’t applied for their own benefit yet, you cannot claim a spousal benefit until they do.”

Green said just like with Social Security retirement benefits, spousal benefits can be reduced if the recipient chooses to claim them before reaching full retirement age (FRA).

“In your case, it appears you started collecting your benefits three years and two months earlier than your full retirement age,” he said. “This means that your spousal benefit on your husband’s record was reduced by almost 26 percent of what it would have been had you taken it at your FRA.”

A key term related to your situation is known as “deemed filing.”

If you are born on or after Jan. 2, 1954 and you file for benefits, you will be deemed to be filing for all eligible benefits, including benefits on your own record and spousal benefits as well, Green said.

“Because you are the younger spouse and began taking benefits prior to FRA—and before your husband began his—spousal benefits were not yet available, and you received your own benefit amount,” he said. “In addition, both your personal and future spousal benefits were reduced.”

When your husband eventually filed for benefits, you became eligible for a spousal benefit, Green said. At that time, Social Security would have automatically began paying you the additional amount each month, assuming your spousal benefit was greater than your original benefit.

It is also possible you wouldn’t be eligible to receive a spousal benefit in the first place, Green said.

When dealing with Social Security benefits, your own benefit will always be paid first.

“In other words, the Social Security Administration will not pay spousal benefits if your personal benefit is greater than 50 percent of your husband’s benefit,” he said. “Because you are currently collecting benefits on your own record, you only qualify for spousal benefits if half of your husband’s monthly benefit was more than your full monthly amount.”

If you have not seen an increase in monthly payments, you should reach out to your local Social Security Administration office to inquire about your options. You can find your local office here.

Email your questions to moc.p1568958327leHye1568958327noMJN1568958327@ksA1568958327.