Spousal Social Security benefits can be hard to decipher, so I was glad that Elaine Floyd, the director of retirement and life planning at Horsemouth, sat down with USA Today reporter Robert Powell to explain some of the innuendos.  “What we seem to be dealing with most these days are people who want spousal benefits and don’t understand the conditions under which they can receive them,” she said.  Here are some tips:

  • The higher earner must file first—this hasn’t always been the case. You can’t claim a spousal benefit until your spouse has claimed their own benefit.  Before the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 became law, a dependent or the lower earning spouse could claim a benefit right away and take advantage of something called the file-and suspend strategy.  That loophole is gone.  You’re not eligible for a benefit until you are age 62 or have a qualifying child under your care.
  • You can’t receive a spousal benefit unless your own benefit is less than 50% of your spouse’s benefits. There is an exception for those born before January 2, 1965.  Those individuals can claim a spousal benefit and then claim their benefit as late as age 70.
  • The spousal benefit can be as much as half of the higher earner’s “primary insurance amount,” or PIA. If a spouse files for a spousal benefit before reaching full retirement age or FRA, he or she, unless caring for a qualifying child, will receive a reduced benefit.
  • Spousal benefits are only paid until the death of the first member of the couple.



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