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Social Security: Watch Out for This Spousal Benefit Trap

Social Security lets you claim benefits based on either your own work history or your spouse's work history. But how they coordinate gets complex, and decisions you make about your own benefits can affect your spousal benefits as well.

In the following video from our Social Security Q&A series, Dan Caplinger, The Motley Fool's director of investment planning, answers a question from Fool reader Darrell about what would happen if his wife took Social Security based on her own work record at age 62 and later switched to spousal benefits based on Darrell's work record. Dan notes that the spousal benefit is typically half of the worker's benefit. But when anyone takes benefits before full retirement age, the amount of benefits is reduced, and that penalty continues even after switching to spousal benefits from benefits based on one's own work history. Dan concludes that you have to be careful coordinating your own benefits with spousal benefits to make sure you get the maximum benefit possible.

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Have general questions about Social Security? Email them to, and they might be the subject of a future video!

Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (33)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 25, 2014, at 9:06 PM, franksalot wrote:

    Ok-great info. But what is the (Small Penalty) that Dan alludes to if the wife takes SS early ar age 62 and then switches over to her husbands work record when she reahes full retirement age at age 66?

  • Report this Comment On April 25, 2014, at 9:06 PM, scotty57 wrote:

    my wife is 3 years older than me .if she collects ss at her full retirement age and switches to half of mine 3 years latter will there be any kind of penalty?

  • Report this Comment On April 25, 2014, at 9:59 PM, crumbhead wrote:

    Dan always looks like he needs a good night's sleep.

  • Report this Comment On April 25, 2014, at 10:32 PM, jdavis6619 wrote:

    What about the reverse, where you take Spousal Benefits at age 62, then switch to your own work record at age 70? In that situation, when benefits are taken at age 70, are they reduced as if you had taken them at age 62 also?

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 12:06 AM, Lauralaey wrote:

    I'm 3 years older than my husband, he already retired at 62. I'm going to be 66 this year, and still working, how will this affect me?

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 7:40 AM, gadfly1000 wrote:


    You can't do that. If you take spouse benefits at age 62, you MUST turn on your own benefits as well.

    It's different at full retirement age. Then you CAN take spouse benefits and delay your own, up to age 70.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 8:30 AM, emailnodata wrote:

    The ultra-smart, new-age retirement trend: deep freezers.

    When the old biddy/old fart dies, you just chunk the body in the deep freeze and continue to cash those social security checks.

    Most financial advisers approve, since the freezers cost relatively little at Home Depot.

    (Author's Note: I have no position in Home Depot).

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 8:34 AM, emailnodata wrote:

    I will give all retirees a warning:

    Aging, death, and dying are massive industries, all geared to scrape every last penny from you prior to your final "died finally in a $1000/day nursing home".

    You need to couch all your financial decisions for your final years with the above in mind...and knowing that at some point, you won't be in control of your own life or decisions.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 2:42 PM, SharonGR wrote:

    My husband & I are at (and past) full retirement age. We are both collecting SS; however, mine is effected by the WEP/GPO and I'm receiving quite a bit less than expected. If I switch to his SS we he also become effected by these punitive laws? I worked from 1960 thru 1989 in private industry (and paid into SS) then from 1990-2011 I found out that I was actually working for a "gov't agency" (a bus company) where we weren't allowed to pay into SS but had to pay into CalPERS. My SS is therefore "offset" by my PERS pension.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 11:36 AM, raulmex wrote:

    Hi, Dan what if i am divorce, and collecting social

    security and x wife is turned 62 just a few days

    ago is she entitled to my social security half and if

    is so am i entitled to half of her social security

    payment when she decides to collect? Thanks.


  • Report this Comment On August 04, 2014, at 1:46 PM, chasman wrote:


    The full 50% spousal benefit is dependent on the spouse claiming at 66. The benefit is 50% of the higher earners benefit at full retirement age(66). My question is does the higher earner have to wait till 66 also or can he/she start collecting at 62 or 63 and the spouse still get the full 50% at 66? Thanks

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Dan Caplinger

Dan Caplinger has been a contract writer for the Motley Fool since 2006. As the Fool's Director of Investment Planning, Dan oversees much of the personal-finance and investment-planning content published daily on With a background as an estate-planning attorney and independent financial consultant, Dan's articles are based on more than 20 years of experience from all angles of the financial world.

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