Time to take ex’s Social Security benefits

By Dr. Don Taylor, Ph.D., CFA, CFP, CASL • Bankrate.com

Dear Retirement Adviser,

My question seems fairly simple. If I don’t take my Social Security benefits right away, do I lose them or can I collect the funds at any time? My sense is that I do not benefit by waiting. My Social Security benefit is from my former husband.


— Su Spousal

Dear Su,

You didn’t tell me how old you are, so a number of things are unknown on my end. But, you are correct that you don’t earn delayed retirement credits on a spousal benefit. If you’re at your full retirement age, age 66, there’s no benefit associated with waiting to file for spousal benefits. In general, if you inadvertently waited to file at your full retirement age, the most you could capture in back retirement benefits is six months’ worth of payments.

If you file for spousal benefits before your full retirement age, then your spousal benefit will be reduced. The extent of the reduction depends on how early you file.

Ex-spouses qualifying for Social Security benefits based upon their own work records have an option that currently married spouses don’t have. The ex-spouse can file for the spousal benefit at his or her full retirement age and continue to earn delayed retirement credits on their work record up to age 70.

If your ex has already passed away, then you’d receive a survivors benefit, instead of a spousal benefit. That includes any delayed retirement credits your ex-spouse earned on his benefits.