Dear Dr. Don,

I'm 64 and my wife is 58. I plan to work until I'm 66 and have always contributed to Social Security. My wife has always been a housewife and has minimal Social Security contributions.
When is the earliest my wife can apply and receive spousal benefits? Is it more beneficial for me to apply now and then have my Social Security restricted? Your advice is highly recommended.

-Lou Leisure

Dear Lou,

Spousal retirement benefits typically can't start until the spouse is 62, although she can apply for them at 61� to start when she's 62.

An exception is if the spouse has a qualifying child in her care. A qualifying child is one who is under age 16 or who receives Social Security disability benefits. A spouse with a qualifying child can receive benefits before age 62.

If she waits until her full retirement age of 66, her spousal benefits will be 50% of your primary insurance amount. Starting to receive benefits at age 62 will reduce that to 35.21% of your primary insurance amount. The primary insurance amount, or PIA, is Social Security-speak for the retirement benefits you are eligible to receive at your full retirement age.

You could apply for retirement benefits at your full retirement age and then request to have the payments suspended. By doing so, your spouse can receive a spousal benefit when she qualifies, and you can earn delayed retirement credits up to age 70. For you to apply now and suspend payments doesn't make sense. You haven't reached full retirement age and she isn't 62 years old. Don't forget to sign up for Medicare four months before you turn 65, even if you're not going to apply for Social Security until later.

If your wife is eligible for retirement benefits on her own record, Social Security pays that amount first. But if the benefit on your record is a higher amount, she will get a combination of benefits that equals that higher amount (reduced for her age).

Social Security has suspended issuing an annual Social Security statement. But if she has one of her old statements, it would show whether she has enough credits to qualify for benefits on her own record. If so, she also can check the benefits under her work record, using the government's retirement estimator.

Get more news, money-saving tips and expert advice by signing up for a free Bankrate newsletter.

Ask the adviser

To ask a question of Dr. Don, go to the "Ask the Experts" page and select one of these topics: "Financing a home," "Saving & Investing" or "Money." Read more Dr. Don columns for additional personal finance advice.

Bankrate's content, including the guidance of its advice-and-expert columns and this website, is intended only to assist you with financial decisions. The content is broad in scope and does not consider your personal financial situation. Bankrate recommends that you seek the advice of advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances before making any final decisions or implementing any financial strategy. Please remember that your use of this website is governed by Bankrate's Terms of Use.