Are you planning to claim Social Security benefits early? If so, consider how the move will affect your spousal benefits.
First of all, not all early filers will be able to enjoy those benefits right away — and even for those who can, the move may not result in a larger monthly check. It's also easy to misinterpret your rights as a spouse.
Part of the confusion stems from the fact that the rules governing spousal benefits for anyone born after January 1, 1954, were changed by legislation enacted in 2015.
Three things to remember about spousal benefits in general are:
A. You cannot qualify for social security benefits unless your husband or wife already receives Social Security.
B. Social security benefits are capped at 50% of the benefits your spouse would get at their full retirement age; and
C. If your spouse dies, you would file for survivor benefits, not spousal benefits. Ever since 2015, legislation changed spousal benefits for anyone born after January 1, 1954; creative filing is no longer an option for younger beneficiaries. The earliest you can file for benefits is age 62- but filing early will impact any spousal benefits you qualify for. This is regardless of whether your husband or wife claimed early or waited until at least full retirement age (either 66 or 67 years old).
The amount of reduction is greater the earlier you claim. For example, if your spouse's monthly benefit at full retirement age is $4,000, 50% (the maximum you could qualify for if you were to wait to file) would be $2,000. If you decide to claim Social Security at age 62, your spousal benefit would be $1,300, or 35% less.
It must be noted, that you would not get the benefit from both your own record and the spousal benefit — you'd get the higher of the two. Using the above hypothetical: If your monthly benefit at age 62 would be less than $1,300, you'd get $1,300. If your benefit was higher, you would get no spousal benefit.
If you have no work record to qualify on, you can still get spousal benefits with the same 50% maximum applying.
I would advise people not to take early benefits unless absolutely necessary. The only way to be eligible for the maximum 50% of the full retirement age spousal benefit is to halt applying for benefits until your own full retirement age — and this remains true even if your spouse filed early.
If you are the first spouse to apply for benefits early, you do not qualify for spousal benefits yet. When your spouse eventually files, you would be eligible for spousal benefits. However, because you filed early, you still would not be entitled to the full 50%. The spousal benefit would be decreased because you claimed early.
If your spouse passes away, you would be eligible for survivor benefits, which are typically 100% of what your spouse had been receiving. If the amount is more than your monthly payments, you will get the higher amount.