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!

Dan Caplinger and The Motley Fool have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.