Taking Benefits at 66 Means More Money for This Couple

By Tom Margenau

February 24, 2016 6 min read

Q: My husband and I both will turn 66 in July. I have never worked outside the home, so I have no Social Security account. My husband, who always has been a high wage earner, wants to wait until he is 70 to take his Social Security benefits to get the maximum rate. Can I get spousal benefits on his record beginning in July while he waits until age 70 to apply for his own Social Security?

A: No, you can't do that. You can't get anything on his Social Security account unless he is getting benefits himself. But your husband might want to think about applying for his retirement benefits at age 66 instead of waiting until age 70. To explain this, I will go over some of your options.

You didn't give me any Social Security benefit amounts. But you said your husband was a "high wage earner," so I'll assume he is going to get a very high Social Security retirement benefit. Let's say it will be $2,500 at age 66.

Option A: Your husband takes his full benefits at age 66. So he will get $2,500 per month. At the same time, you will apply for wife's benefits. Because you are 66, you will get a rate equal to half of his, or $1,250. Combined, you will get $3,750 monthly.

Option B: Your husband waits until age 70 to apply for benefits. At that point, he will get a 32 percent delayed retirement bonus added to his monthly benefits. So he will be due $3,300 per month. Once he files for his benefits, you can sign up for wife's benefits on his account. You will get a rate equal to one half of his age 66 rate (not his age 70 rate). So you will get $1,250. Your combined benefit from age 70 on will be $4,550.

If you do what your husband currently wants to do, in other words, you choose Option B, you will be throwing away $180,000. That's the total benefits you would have received between age 66 and 70 using Option A: You would get an extra $800 per month in Option B from age 70 on. And that means it would take you 225 months, or almost 19 years, to make up the money you lose by not taking Option A: If I were you, I would sure try to talk my husband into signing up for his benefits at age 66.

But before you do that, there is one more thing to consider. And that is potential widow's benefits. In Option A, your widow's rate would be equal to his full retirement benefit, or $2,500 per month. In Option B, your widow's rate would equal his full benefit plus his delayed retirement bonus, or $3,300. Chances are you will live a few years longer than he will. Would you rather have that extra $800 per month all by yourself after he dies? Or would you rather have the extra $180,000 in benefits along with your living husband between now and age 70?

Q: I will be 65 in April. I plan to sign up for Medicare then. I also want to sign up for my husband's Social Security at that time to help pay for my Medicare premium. Then at 66, I want to file for my own Social Security. How do I do all that?

A: I'm sorry, but at your current age, you can NOT file for wife's benefits on your husband's record and then wait until age 66 to file for your own. If you file for any Social Security benefits before age 66, you MUST file for your own reduced retirement benefits. Only if you choose to wait until age 66 before filing for Social Security would you have the option of applying for spousal benefits first. Then you could save your own retirement benefits until age 70, when you would get a 32 percent delayed filing bonus. If you do apply for Medicare at 65 and decide to delay signing up for Social Security until age 66 (or later), you will be billed quarterly for your Part B Medicare premiums.

Q: I am 66 years old. I'm not working, but have decided to delay taking my Social Security until I am 70. I did not sign up for Medicare at 65. I plan to wait until I am 70 to do that, too. I just don't think I'll need it until then. But someone told me that I will pay a penalty because I did not take Medicare at 65. Isn't that just another example of big government gouging the little guy?

A: You certainly should have signed up for Part A (hospital coverage) Medicare when you were 65. After all, it's free. Or to be more precise, you already paid for it with your Medicare payroll taxes while you were still working.

And you probably should have signed up for Part B (doctor's coverage) at the same time. It comes with a monthly premium currently around $120 per month. But you will have a 10 percent penalty tacked on to your monthly Part B premiums for each year after 65 you delay filing. You have until the end of March to sign up for Part B. Otherwise, you will have to wait until next year and then you will pay a 20 percent penalty.

And I don't think the government is gouging you. It is standard insurance industry practice to make people pay more if they delay filing for coverage until they think they are going to need it. For example, if you bought life insurance at age 25, it will cost you a lot less than if you waited until age 70 to buy the same coverage.

Q: I am 68 years old and get $1,600 in my own Social Security. My husband is 71 and gets $2,100. We have been married for 40 years. I am not going to get into the specifics, but he recently betrayed me. I am so disgusted, I can't live with him anymore. But someone told me if I divorce him, I won't be able to get widow's benefits on his record. Is this true?

A: In your circumstances, you would get the same widow's rate (an extra $500 in widow's benefits tacked on to your own retirement check), whether you are married or divorced.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at [email protected] To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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