Can woman work, claim spousal benefits?


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Dear Liz,
I stopped working to raise my children. I am no longer with my husband of 30-plus years, and I am currently working part time. I just turned 62 and would like to semi-retire by receiving my long-separated husband’s retirement benefits because they are higher than what my benefits would be. I would continue to work to build a larger base when I do retire. He retired at 62 a few years ago. Can I claim his retirement benefits?
— YaVonne

Dear YaVonne,
Not exactly. What you can claim is a spousal benefit based on his work record — but that doesn’t mean you should, at least not yet.

The most you can get from a spousal benefit is 50 percent of his primary insurance amount, or PIA — the benefit he would have gotten if he had waited until full retirement age (currently 66) to retire. But that assumes you wait until your own full retirement age to begin drawing benefits.

By starting early, your check would be permanently discounted. At 62, you would get just 35 percent of his PIA rather than half. Furthermore, you lose the option of switching to your own benefit later, even if it becomes larger. Switching from a spousal benefit to your own benefit is an option only if you wait until your full retirement age to start.

Your smaller check could be discounted further by your work earnings. Before you reach full retirement age, your Social Security checks will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn above a certain limit, which this year is $15,720.

Clearly, there are a lot of incentives to wait and many disadvantages to collecting now.

By the way, you can get a spousal benefit — and a survivors benefit, for that matter — based on a spouse’s work record whether you’re married or divorced. The difference with divorce is that you don’t have to wait for your ex to file for retirement benefits to claim a spousal benefit. When you’re married, your spouse has to file before you can claim spousal checks.

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