Dear Rusty: I’m wondering if my husband can submit a “restricted application for spousal benefits only.” He is 76 years old, has been receiving his benefit since 2005. His present benefit is $263.50. I am 74 years old, receiving my benefit since 2007. My present benefit is $931. Am I to understand that he could be receiving half of my amount rather than his smaller amount? Signed: Inquiring Wife
Dear Inquiring Wife: Your husband isn’t eligible to file a “restricted application for spousal benefits only” because he is already collecting his own Social Security benefits and because he is past 70 years of age. But he should probably be receiving a spousal benefit from you because his benefit is so much lower than yours. From what you’ve written, you both claimed your Social Security benefits when you were 62 years of age. That means you both took a 25% cut in benefits from what you would have gotten at your full retirement age (FRA) of 66.
Spousal benefits are based upon FRA benefit amounts, even if you claimed benefits earlier. So, since your FRA benefit amount would have been about $1,164 and your husband’s FRA benefit would have been about $330, by my calculations he should now be receiving a spousal benefit of about $516 instead of his benefit of $263.50. The computation for that is: Take half of your FRA benefit amount ($582) minus your husband’s FRA benefit amount ($330); the difference ($252) is added to his own current benefit ($264) to get $516 as his possible spousal benefit (note the actual numbers from SS may vary somewhat). This probably means that when you claimed your benefit two years after your husband claimed his, your husband didn’t apply for his spousal benefit (and it wasn’t awarded automatically by SS).
I suggest your husband contact Social Security as soon as possible and make an appointment to apply for his spousal benefits. Since he has been entitled to that benefit for some time now, he can also request 6 months of retroactive spousal benefits which they will pay in a lump-sum and adjust his monthly benefit to what he is entitled to as your spouse. There is also a possibility that, when you filed, SS failed to notify your husband he was eligible for a spouse benefit, in which case he may be able to collect his spouse benefit back to the date he became eligible. Your husband should contact Social Security directly at either 800-772-1213, or at your local office (find it at www.ssa.gov/locator) to make an appointment to apply for his spousal benefit from you. And, usually, this application can be accomplished over the phone.
Please note that all of the above assumes that your husband’s current benefit isn’t being reduced due to a non-covered pension which causes the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) to lower his benefit amount, and which would cause the Government Pension Offset (GPO) to severely alter, or even eliminate, his spousal benefit.
Russell Gloor is an Association of Mature American Citizens certified social security advisor. To submit a question, visit amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory or email firstname.lastname@example.org.