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Spousal Benefits of ‘Free’ Social Security

Jeffery B. Miller, with a doctorate in economics from University of Pennsylvania, is the founder of Social Security Choices, a firm that helps people in claiming their social security benefits by providing them with customized information. Miller has written about his friend’s experiences with so-called ‘free’ social security benefits.

His 67-year old friend, who is still working, has not claimed his social security benefits. His wife, who is 62 and retired, has been claiming her benefits and Miller has suggested his friend to look into his wife’s social security record for claiming further benefits.

When he visited the local Social Security office, he was quite surprised to find out that he would start getting a monthly spousal benefit and a check for $5000. He had not considered this option of claiming benefits before and he also discovered that the check he was to get was for spousal benefits that he would have gotten for last half year till the time of his claim. Not only is the size of his spousal benefits surprising (more than half the amount of his wife’s retirement check), but also the fact that he would have been eligible for even more benefits if he would have pursued this option at the age of 66.

The logic behind this amazing piece of information, according to Miller, can be explained by simple math. If the full benefit of the wife at retirement was $2000 and she was taking it at 62 instead, she would receive only 75 percent of it that is, $1500. Her husband, on the other hand, is eligible to half of his wife’s full retirement benefit because he is past his retirement. So he gets $1000 and together, the couple gets $2500 every month. An even better piece of information, revealed by Miller, was that this claim does not eliminate or even diminish the husband’s eligibility for his own retirement. In fact, until he gets to the age of 70, his retirement benefits increase by eight percent every year. Social Security is actually providing growing benefits as well as subsidy which is why this whole thing is known as ‘free’ spousal benefits.

A different situation came up when somebody who was divorced wanted such benefits. Nevertheless, because this lady was also in her sixties and had been married for ten years, she was eligible for ‘free’ spousal benefits based on her previous husband’s records as well as for her own retirement benefits. Social Security normally uses phrases like ‘restricted application’ to imply such strategies but even though ‘free’ isn’t normally used, it is a better expression to describe the situation.

The challenge for most such couples is to find ways to claim these benefits based on individual cases. For example, married couples can use 625 different methods of claiming benefits and Miller’s firm often has to run a computer program with information of a specific case before deciding upon the best option. In short, Miller advises to pay attention to the claiming decision and process of Social Security because the different can be of thousands of dollars.


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