Social Security: Watch Out for This Spousal Benefit Trap

Combining spousal Social Security benefits with benefits based on your own work history is more complicated than you think. Learn the secrets here.

Dan Caplinger
Dan Caplinger
Apr 25, 2014 at 2:15PM
Investment Planning

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.

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