ASK KIM


Both Spouses Can Get Social Security Benefits

Kimberly Lankford

If both of you worked, you're both entitled to a payout.



My spouse and I both have paid into the Social Security system for over 35 years each. I was told by a senior family member that my husband and I cannot both receive our Social Security benefits, but that we can only receive a benefit for one or the other of us. So if my husband retires and takes his Social Security benefit, when I retire I will not receive my Social Security benefit that I've been paying into all these years. Is that true?

No, it isn't. You can either get the full benefit that you've qualified for on your own or half of your spouse's benefit -- whichever is higher -- if you retire at your full retirement age (age 65 to 67, depending on the year you were born).

You can only take spousal benefits after the retired worker begins receiving benefits on his own record. If you're older than he is, you can start by taking benefits based on your own record -- even if it's less than 50% of what his full benefits will be -- then can increase the benefits to the spousal amount after he starts taking benefits.

To estimate how much you should receive in benefits based on your own earnings history, see the Social Security Administration's retirement benefits calculator. To calculate how much you'd receive in spousal benefits, see the spousal benefits calculator at the Social Security Administration's Web site. You have to be at least 62 to start receiving spousal benefits -- but you'll receive a reduced benefit if you start taking it at this age.

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Taking benefits before your full retirement age reduces the payout amount, whether you're receiving benefits based on your own or your spouse's record. If your husband's monthly benefit at full retirement age is $1,000, for example, then you can receive $500 per month in spousal benefits if you start taking them at your full retirement age. If you take spousal benefits at age 62 rather than at full retirement age of 66, for example, you'll only receive about $350 per month.

Or you can take benefits based on your own earnings history, if that number is larger. If your monthly benefit at full retirement age is $1,000, for example, then you'd only receive about $750 per month if you started taking benefits at age 62 rather than at your full retirement age of 66.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.




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