Many times the question comes up – Since my spouse has filed for Social Security retirement benefits, can I file for only the Spousal Benefit?
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This is certainly available for the individual that is at or over Full Retirement Age (FRA). This is a common circumstance that many folks employ. One spouse files for benefits and the other, hoping to achieve the full Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs), while still receiving a benefit, files for the Spousal Benefit only. This is a perfectly allowable method. See this article for more information on filing for the Spousal Benefit only.
On the other hand, if you’re under FRA, this option is not available to you. This is because, prior to FRA, if you file for the Spousal Benefit, you are deemed to have filed for your own benefit as well. This is known as “deemed filing”, and it only applies when you’re under FRA. The result of this action is that your own benefit will be permanently reduced, as will the Spousal Benefit that you’re filing for early as well.
This is a very important distinction to note, because the outcomes are completely in opposition to one another. Filing for Spousal Benefit at FRA allows the individual to achieve the maximum DRCs and potentially maximize lifetime benefits; on the other hand, filing for Spousal Benefit at any time before FRA will permanently reduce the benefits you can achieve for your lifetime.
The balance to weigh out between these two options is the length of time that you’d receive the benefits – in other words, how long you’ll live. If you end up living considerably past your early 80’s, the delay tactic would probably work out best for you. If you don’t live as long, filing for both benefits earlier could work out better. Or a possible “split the difference” tactic could be for you to file for your own benefit early and delay filing for the Spousal Benefit until FRA. This would work best if there is a significant difference between the lower-earning spouse and the higher-earning spouse.
It should be noted that, in any case, for a person to file for Spousal Benefits, the other spouse must have filed for his or her own benefit. And if that spouse is at or above FRA, he or she could have suspended receiving the benefit, this would not affect the other spouse’s options in filing for Spousal Benefits.A Social Security Owner's Manual, 2013 Edition, can be purchased by clicking this link. If you'd prefer the Kindle version (and let's face it, ALL the cool kids do!), you can find that at this Kindle version link.