A: No. In order for a spouse to collect Social Security spousal benefits on her husband’s earnings, the following requirements must be met:
- The wife must be at least age 62
- The husband must be eligible for benefits, so he must also be at least age 62. In addition, the husband must actually apply for Social Security retirement benefits in order for his wife to collect based on his earnings.
To give you an example, if the wife is 62 and the husband is 58, the wife can start collecting benefits based on her own earnings, but she can not collect based on her husband’s earnings until he turns 62 and applies for benefits.
However, if the wife is 66 and the husband is 62, then the wife can start collecting based on her husband’s earnings (again the husband must apply for benefits before the wife can collect based on his earnings).
In both examples above, the wife can start receiving benefits based on her own earnings at age 62 (assuming she has at least 40 quarters and qualifies for benefits on her own), then switch to half of her husband’s benefit when her spouse becomes eligible for Social Security.
A couple of points to consider before applying for Social Security spousal benefits:
If a wife applies for spousal benefits based on her husband’s earnings when she reaches full retirement age (age 66 for people retiring now), then she will receive 50% of her spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA). However, if she applies at age 62, her benefit will only be 35% of his PIA.
It does not benefit the spouse to apply after her full retirement age, as spousal benefits do not include delayed credits. In addition, it doesn’t help the wife if the husband delays applying for benefits because she will not receive any increase in benefits that he receives by waiting to apply.
If a spouse reaches full retirement age and is eligible for a spousal benefit or her own benefit, she may claim the spousal benefit now and delay taking her own benefit so she can build up delayed credits on her own benefit.
You can collect Social Security spousal benefits based on an ex-spouse’s earnings as long as you were married for at least 10 years and you are currently unmarried. If you have more than one ex-spouse that you qualify for spousal benefits, you will receive the highest benefit you qualify for. One advantage that divorced spouses have over married spouses is that a divorced spouse does not have to wait for a former husband to apply for benefits as long as the couple has been divorced for at least two years when she applies.
Finally, the Social Security retirement system is gender neutral, so while this article has assumed that the wife is the one applying for Social Security spousal benefits, if the wife earns more than the husband, the husband can apply for spousal benefits based on his wife’s earnings.
[Note: The budget deal passed in November 2015 eliminated the file and suspend and restricted application strategies. For more information, please read Budget Deal Eliminates File and Suspend Social Security Filing Strategy.]