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Social Security and Spousal Benefits - Pinnacle Investment Management, Inc.

Social Security and Spousal Benefits

December 14, 2016 / Blog

 

One of the most misunderstood (or unknown) areas of Social Security is spousal benefits. According to a survey by AARP, only 48% of more than 2,000 respondents aged 52-70 knew that they could collect Social Security benefits based on their living spouse’s record.

 

Spousal Social Security Benefits

If you have been married for at least 1 year, then you may be eligible to collect Social Security benefits based on the work record of your spouse. Spousal benefits can be a great benefit for someone who never worked or who didn’t work many years, such as stay-at-home parents.

 

So how much is the Spousal benefit? If you collect your spousal benefit at your Full Retirement Age (FRA), then you are eligible to collect 50% of your spouse’s benefit (otherwise known as Primary Insurance Amount).

Example:

Ryan and Amy are both 66 and have just retired. Ryan has a benefit of $2,000/m and Amy does not have a benefit of her own, as she stayed at home to raise their kids.

If Ryan collects his benefit now, Amy will be eligible to collect her spousal benefit, which is $1,000/m (50% of Ryan’s PIA).

 

If you collect your spousal benefit earlier than your Full Retirement Age, then your benefit will be reduced. If your FRA is 66, then the reduction of your spousal benefit would be as follows:

ss-spousal-chart

Example

Joe is 62 years old and his wife Melissa is 66. They are both retired and their FRA is 66. Melissa is eligible for a benefit of $2,000/m while Joe isn’t eligible for a benefit on his own record, as he was a stay at home dad.

If Joe collects his spousal benefit now, at 62, he will get $700/m. That is Melissa’s benefit of $2,000/m reduced by 50% for the spousal benefit and then reduced 30% because Joe is collecting early.

 

While both examples above show spouses who didn’t work and thus had no Social Security benefit of their own, you can still take advantage of spousal benefits if you worked and are entitled to your own benefit. In this case, you will be eligible to collect the higher of the two benefits, but not both.

Example

Brittney and Tom are both 66 years old. Tom has a benefit of $2,500/m. Brittney worked part time while raising their kids, and has a benefit of $800/m. Brittney is entitled to a spousal benefit of $1,250/m (50% of $2,500). Since the spousal benefit is higher, she will collect this benefit rather than her own benefit of $800.

 

Importantly, in order to collect a spousal benefit, your spouse must have filed for their benefit already. You cannot collect a benefit before they have done so.

 

Another point regarding Spousal benefits is that there is generally no benefit in delaying Spousal benefits past your Full Retirement Age, as the amount will not increase.

So while retirement benefits will increase the longer someone waits to collect them, the spousal benefit will not increase after someone reaches their FRA.

Example

Anne and Victor are 66 and 70, respectively. Victor’s Social Security benefit was $2,000/m at 66, his Full Retirement Age. However, he decided to wait until 70 to start collecting his benefit, which would have grown to $2,640/m.

Anne is eligible to collect a spousal benefit of $1,000/m (50% of Victor’s benefit at his FRA). There is no benefit to Anne waiting to collect the benefit like Victor did. Her spousal benefit will not increase.

 

 

One final point regarding Spousal Benefits is the potential benefit of a strategy known as “restricted application.” Recent changes to Social Security has eliminated “restricted application” for future retirees, however if you were 62 by December 31st, 2015 then you may be able to still take advantage of it. To understand how restricted application works, see our previous post on “Important Social Security Changes.”

 

Sources & Further Reading
Social Security, Retirement Planner: Benefits for Your Spouse
AARP Research

 

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About the author

John Shanley: CFP ® is a Financial Advisor with Pinnacle. He joined in 2015 after previously working as a Financial Consultant for Fidelity Investments. John is a Certified Financial Planner, a graduate of Fordham University and is currently pursuing his Masters degree in Financial Services. John is a native of Pawling NY and currently resides in Suffield with his wife, Jennifer, who is an Immigration Attorney. In his free time, John enjoys reading and is an avid hockey fan.


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