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Malti Patel

Q: My wife doesn't have enough work to qualify for Social Security or Medicare. Can she qualify on my record?

A: The question you've raised applies to husbands as well as wives. Even if he or she has never worked under Social Security, your spouse at full retirement age can receive a benefit equal to one-half of your full retirement amount.

Your spouse can begin collecting the benefits as early as age 62, but the amount will be permanently reduced by a percentage based on the number of months up to his or her full retirement age. Your spouse who is caring for your child and also receiving benefits can receive the full one-half benefit amount no matter what his or her age is. Your spouse would receive these benefits until the child reaches age 16. At that time, the child's benefits continue, but your spouse's benefits stop unless he or she is old enough to receive retirement benefits (age 62 or older) or survivor benefits as a widow or widower (age 60).

If your spouse also has worked under Social Security: If your spouse is eligible for retirement benefits on his or her own record, Social Security will always pay that amount first. But if the spouse benefit on your record is a higher amount, he or she will get a combination of benefits that equals that higher amount. It doesn't matter if your spouse starts getting benefits before, after, or at the same time you do. The Social Security Administration will check both records to make sure that your spouse gets the higher amount whenever he or she becomes entitled to it.

Q: What are the benefit amounts a husband or wife may be entitled to receive?

A: A spouse receives one-half of the retired worker's full benefit unless the spouse begins collecting benefits before full retirement age. In that case, the amount of the spouse's benefit is permanently reduced by a percentage based on the number of months before he/she reaches full retirement age.

For example,

Based on the full retirement age of 65, if a spouse begins collecting benefits:
At 64, the benefit amount would be about 46 percent of the retired worker's full benefit.
At age 63, it would be about 42 percent, and;
At age 62, 37.5 percent.

However, if a spouse is taking care of a child who is either under age 16 or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits, a spouse gets full (one-half) benefits, regardless of age.

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

Q: How much can a divorced spouse receive?

A: A man/woman who is divorced after at least 10 years of marriage keeps certain benefit rights on their former husband/wife's Social Security record. In order for him/her to get benefits, a divorced husband/wife must be at least age 62 and the former spouse must be eligible for benefits, but not necessarily receiving them. The maximum benefit is 50 percent of the benefit the worker would receive at full retirement age. However, benefits paid prior to full retirement age of the spouse are reduced based upon the age of the spouse at the time benefits are received.

Q: Can my spouse collect benefits at age 62 from her work and earnings and then receive a combined total up to 50 per cent from my account when I start receiving benefits at age 65?

A: Your wife can start receiving reduced retirement benefits on her own record at age 62. If the amount she receives on her own record is less than what she would be entitled to as a spouse, she would receive a higher spouse's benefit when you start receiving benefits. However, because she began receiving Social Security before reaching full retirement age, she will receive a reduced benefit rate that is less than the full 50 percent amount for as long as she remains entitled to spouse's benefits.

When your spouse applies for reduced retirement benefits, Social Security Administration will check to see if she is eligible for both her own retirement benefits and for benefits as a spouse. If she is eligible for both, she will get her own benefits first. If she is due additional benefits, she will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse's benefit. If she is not eligible for both because you are not yet entitled, but is due a higher amount when you start receiving Social Security benefits, then the higher spouse's benefit is payable to her when you apply for retirement benefits. Remember, she cannot receive spouse's benefits until you file for retirement.

These questions and answers are courtesy of Malti Patel, 1607 Wood Creek Lane, Allen, Texas-75002. She can be reached at (469) 675-0972.

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