1. Social Security’s website
gives the impression that your spousal benefit is half of your partner’s primary insurance amount (PIA), also called your full retirement benefit. But this is true only if a) you don’t qualify for a retirement benefit on your own or b) you reach full retirement age having never filed for Social Security and, at that point, apply only for your spousal benefit.
Otherwise, your spousal benefit is actually your “excess spousal benefit” defined as half of your partner’s primary insurance amount (full retirement benefit) less your primary insurance amount after it’s been adjusted for any delayed retirement credits you may accrue.
Moreover, if you apply for your retirement benefit early, you’ll be forced to also apply for your spousal benefit early if your partner has already filed for his/her retirement benefit. If your partner applies a month after you apply, you’re in the clear. You don’t have to take your spousal benefit early and you can wait until full retirement age to collect an unreduced spousal benefit.
But, and here’s the extra gotcha of this first gotcha, if you time your partner’s application right and aren’t forced to take your spousal benefit early, you’ll still get stuck with the excess spousal benefit, not the full spousal benefit (equal to one half of your partner’s PIA). To be precise, your total benefit will equal your own reduced retirement benefit plus your unreduced excess spousal benefit. And the sum of these two pieces will be less than one half of your partner’s primary insurance amount.
To summarize, if you take your retirement benefit early and aren’t able to time things right with respect to when you and your partner apply for retirement benefits, you’ll end up having to take your excess spousal benefit early. And if you are able to time things right, you’ll end up after full retirement age collecting in total, less than half of your partner’s full retirement benefit.
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