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Can I Switch to My Spouse’s Benefit At FRA?


This is a question that comes up pretty frequently, in several different flavors.  Basically, here’s the full question:

I started benefits at age 62, and now I’m 66 (Full Retirement Age) – can I switch over to my spouse’s benefit now that I’m age 66?  And will it be based on his benefit when he was 66, or his benefit now.  (He’s 70 now, and has been collecting benefits since he turned 66.)

There are a couple of questions being asked here, and I’ll cover them one-by-one.

Can I switch to my spouse’s benefit?

The wording here is troubling, because the asker specifically wishes to “switch” to another benefit.  If an individual is already receiving retirement benefits, the spousal benefit is not a “switch”, but rather an “addition” to the retirement benefit.

The second issue is implied, and maybe not troublesome to the question at hand.  The Spousal Benefit at Full Retirement Age (FRA) is 50% of the other spouse’s Primary Insurance Amount.  The implication is that the asker could receive the same benefit as her spouse – and this is not the case.  Half of the other spouse’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) is the maximum Spousal Benefit.

So here’s how the Spousal Benefit is calculated:

  • half of the other spouse’s PIA minus your own PIA;
  • if you’re younger than FRA the result will be reduced to as little as 65%;
  • if you’re at or older than FRA, there is no reduction to the result of the first step;
  • the resulting amount is added to your own benefit, to result in your total benefit.

See the article, Social Security Spousal Benefit Calculation Before FRA for more detail on how exactly this all works.

What Will My Benefit Be Based On?

In the example question from above, the asker indicates that her husband filed for his own benefit at age 66, and now he’s age 70.  So what amount is a spousal benefit based upon?

In this case, the amount of the spousal benefit would be based upon the amount that the husband is currently receiving – assuming that he had filed at exactly his own age 66, Full Retirement Age.  If he filed at exactly that age, his benefit is equal to his Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) – which over the intervening four years has been increased by Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs).

If the husband in question had delayed his benefit to age 70 to receive the Delayed Retirement Credits (for more on Delayed Retirement Credits, DRCs, see the article A File and Suspend Review at the link), then the spousal benefit that that asker would receive would be based upon the amount that the husband would have received had he filed at FRA, which would have increased by COLAs.

Hope this helps to clear up this question!

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