12 Jan I’m applying for Social Security. How long should my wife wait?
Q. I will be applying for Social Security. My wife is going to apply based on my work credits. How soon should my wife apply after I apply?
A. Married couples can use several strategies to maximize Social Security benefits.
As you noted, filing on a spouse’s record can be one of them.
Your wife can claim her Social Security spousal benefits if you are receiving benefits and she is 62 or older, said Jeanne Kane, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton.
Your wife will claim either under her benefit if she is eligible, or she can receive up to half of your Social Security benefit as a spousal benefit, Kane said.
“She gets the higher of the two. Not both. The IRS doesn’t allow double dipping,” she said.
How much she gets depends upon when she applies for benefits.
The age you or your wife can start receiving Social Security retirement benefits is 62, Kane said.
But just because you’ve reached 62 doesn’t mean that you should claim early at age 62, Kane said.
“If you claim before your full retirement age (FRA), you may get more checks, but the benefit will be permanently reduced by as much as 30%,” she said, noting your FRA depends on when you were born. If you were born before 1954 or earlier, your FRA is 66. The age then increases by two months for every year until you get to 1960 and later, when the FRA is 67, Kane said.
Benefits are permanently reduced if you claim your Social Security benefits between 62 and your FRA, she said, and your wife’s benefit at her FRA will be half of your benefit at your FRA.
If she claims before her FRA, her benefit will be reduced, Kane said.
But if you claim early, your wife’s spousal benefit isn’t necessarily reduced, she said.
“She would still be eligible for half of what your benefit would be at your FRA,” she said.
Kane said if you wait to claim after your FRA, your benefit will increase by 8% per year up until age 70. So if you can afford to, you should wait as long as possible to claim your benefit, she said.
“Your benefit is guaranteed to increase 8% each year you wait after your FRA — guaranteed being the key word here,” she said. “You can earn 8% or higher return on your investments each year, but there are few investments guarantee it.”
Kane said this is particularly important because you’re married. When one spouse dies, the surviving spouse claims the higher of the two benefits. They don’t get to claim both, she said.
“Since you were the higher earner, you should max out your benefit if you can, so your spouse receives the highest amount possible when she’s surviving on only one Social Security benefit,” she said.
You should contact Social Security directly so it can explain exactly what benefits you and your wife can expect based on your personal records.
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This story was originally published on Jan. 12, 2023.
NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.