What Happens to My Spouse’s Benefits if I Retire Early?

Gold Watch for Retirement

The Real Impact of Early Retirement on Spouses

For individuals who retire early and have a Full-Retirement Age (FRA) of 66 (which means they were born between 1943 and 1954), the monthly reduction of benefits for the primary earner and the spouse are significant.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) at their Web site located at http://socialsecurity.gov/OACT/quickcalc/earlyretire.html indicates how the monthly reduction is calculated. If the primary earner’s Full Retirement Age (FRA) benefit is $1,000 per month and he (or she) retires at age 62, the reduction is 25 percent ($750 per month). If the spouse also retires at age 62 the reduction of 30 percent. In other words, the $500 (one-half of the primary earner’s benefit) is reduced to $350. Therefore, the primary earner and spouse will receive $1,100 per month. If the couple had waited until FRA, the monthly benefit would be $1,500. This is a significant reduction.

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), a spouse receives one-half of the retired worker’s full benefit unless the spouse begins collecting benefits before FRA. If the spouse begins collecting benefits before FRA, the amount of the spouse’s benefit is reduced by a percentage based on the number of months before he or she reaches FRA.

For example, based on the full retirement age of 66, if a spouse begins collecting benefits:

At age 65, the benefit amount would be about 46 percent of the retired worker’s full benefit;
At age 64, it would be about 42 percent;
At age 63, 37.5 percent; and
At age 62, 35 percent.
However, if a spouse is taking care of a child who is either under age 16 or disabled and receives Social Security benefits, a spouse will get full benefits, regardless of age.

If you are eligible for both your own retirement benefit and for benefits as a spouse, the SSA will always pay benefits based on your work record first. If your benefit as a spouse is higher than your retirement benefit, you will receive a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse’s benefits.

About ksindell

Kathleen Sindell, Ph.D. is the author of numerous academic, popular, and professional finance articles, Web sites, proposals, and books. This includes the bestselling reference book, "Investing Online for Dummies, Eds 1-5" (listed for two consecutive years on the Wall Street Journal's Bestselling Business Book List). Her most recent book "Social Security: Maximize your Benefits" has been listed in Amazon's Top 100 Bestselling Retirement Planning Books. It is important to note that "Social Security: Maximize Your Benefits, 2nd Edition" was just released. Sindell has an in-depth understanding of the financial services industry and has held Series 7, 63, and 65 licenses. Dr. Sindell is regularly tapped as a financial services expert on ABC World News, The Nightly Business Report, and at popular online and print outlets. Kathleen Sindell, Ph.D. is a member of the Board of Directors for the Financial Planning Association, National Capital Area (FPA NCA), is on the Editorial Advisory Panel of the Journal of Financial Planning, and is Co-Chair of the Metro Washington Financial Planning Day. Sindell is a Course Chair II, CFP Program Academic Officer, and adjunct full-professor at the University of Maryland, UMUC, School of Undergraduate Studies. Contact Information: ksindell@kathleensindell.com or 703-299-1700
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