Monday, February 6, 2023
Homenew road to retirementIf you claim Social Security early, it can affect your spousal benefits....

If you claim Social Security early, it can affect your spousal benefits. Here’s what to know

  • Under spousal benefits, the maximum you can qualify for is generally 50% of your spouse's full-retirement-age benefits.
  • If you file before full retirement age, you are automatically deemed applying for spousal benefits as well, as long as your husband or wife already is receiving Social Security.
  • Congressional legislation in 2015 changed the rules applying to spousal benefits for anyone born after Jan. 1, 1954.

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Before you claim Social Security early, you may want to think about how the move would impact your spousal benefits.

To begin with, not all early filers can access those benefits immediately — and for those who are able to, the decision may not mean getting a bigger monthly check. It's also easy to misunderstand what you're entitled to as a spouse.

Part of the confusion is because the rules applying to spousal benefits for anyone born after Jan. 1, 1954, were changed under 2015 legislation, said David Freitag, a Social Security expert and financial planning consultant with MassMutual. 

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"That's when all of the creative filing went away for younger [beneficiaries]," Freitag said.

While it can seem complicated, two things to remember about spousal benefits in general are:

  1. It is capped at 50% of the benefits your spouse would get at their full retirement age; and
  2. You cannot qualify for those benefits unless your husband or wife is already receiving Social Security.

It's also important to note that if your spouse dies, you would file for survivor benefits, not spousal benefits. And if you were born before that 1954 cutoff date, you might have other strategies available to you as a spouse.

The details

You may know that your own Social Security benefits are reduced if you claim them before your full retirement age (as deemed by the government), which currently is either 66 or 67, depending on your birth year. (Likewise, claiming anytime beyond that age means your benefits would be higher, growing by an average of 8% yearly until you reach age 70.)

The earliest you can file for benefits is age 62. However, filing early impacts any spousal benefits you qualify for as well, Freitag said.

And that's regardless of whether your husband or wife claimed early or waited until at least full retirement age.

The amount of the reduction is greater the earlier you claim.

For example, say your spouse's monthly benefit at full retirement age is $2,000, so 50% — the maximum you could qualify for if you were to wait to file — is $1,000.

If you decide to claim Social Security at age 62, your spousal benefit would be $650, or 35% less, said certified financial planner Peggy Sherman, a lead advisor at Briaud Financial Advisors in College Station, Texas.

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