As presently configured, social security does not allow either spouse to claim a spousal benefit, unless the other spouse has already filed for benefits. Once the primary beneficiary, however, reaches Full Retirement Age (FRA), they can file for benefits and immediately suspend them. This allows the secondary beneficiary to then begin receiving spousal benefits, while the primary beneficiary would accrue delayed retirement credits at 8% annually till the age of 70.
The first of the two most common instances of employing this strategy would involve a high earning primary beneficiary and a spouse with little or no earnings history.
Example 1: Fred is 66 years old and at FRA. He is currently eligible to receive a monthly benefit of 2,200 while his spouse Susan, who had very little earnings history, was not eligible for a monthly benefit of her own. Given that Fred has reached his FRA, he would simply file for his own benefits and immediately suspend them. This would allow Fred to delay retirement credits at 8% annually till the age of 70. This would ultimately increase his own monthly benefit to approximately 2,900 while also enabling Susan to immediately begin collecting a monthly spousal benefit of 1,100 (50% of Fred’s FRA benefit of 2,200). When Fred turns 70 and starts to collect his own delayed benefit their combined monthly benefit would be approximately 4,000 monthly.
The second example of the two would involve a couple who both had strong earnings, and it would make sense for both individuals to defer benefits from their FRA till they turn 70.
Example 2: Diane is 66 years old and at FRA. She is currently eligible to receive a monthly benefit of 2,300, while her husband Tom, who is 65, will be eligible for a 2,100 monthly benefit when he reaches his FRA on his next birthday. In this case Diane would file for her benefits and immediately suspend them. This would allow her to delay retirement credits at 8% annually till age 70 increasing her monthly benefit to approximately 3,000. More importantly this would put Tom in position, when he reaches FRA on his next birthday, to receive a full spousal benefit, in his case 1,150, as well as continuing to delay his own retirement credits at 8% annually. At 70 Tom would switch over to his own benefit which would be approximately 2,700. This example comes with the caveat that Tom, at this point, only wants to claim the spousal benefit while letting his own benefit delay retirement credit to age 70. This is accomplished by filing what is called a “restricted application” when requesting his spousal benefit. This would indicate to social security that he is requesting his spousal benefit only, which would in turn let him continue delaying his own retirement credits to age 70.