Qualifying Your Wife for Retirement Benefit

By Dr. Don Taylor, Ph.D., CFA, CFP, CASLSocial Security BenefitsBankrate.com

Dear Retirement Adviser, 

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My wife needs five years of work history to qualify for Social Security benefits. She is 60 years old, while I am 61. I told her if she went back to work I could qualify for a spousal benefit on her record, while filing and suspending my benefit until 70. She doesn't think it is worth going back to work. Instead, she'd like to wait and file for my benefit when I suspend. She thinks I am being greedy and we will have plenty without running the actual numbers. Am I wrong about her need to get her benefit to help our retirement nest egg? If she earns only the minimum benefit as a bookkeeper, what can we gain in our retirement plan if she returns to the workforce but can still retire with me at 66?

Thank you, 

-Don Denouement

Dear Don, 

There is a minimum primary insurance amount for a person earning low wages over at least 30 years of coverage and a pro-rated special minimum benefit for a worker with between 11 and 20 years of coverage. If your wife works for five years as a bookkeeper she will still fail to qualify.

A worker born in 1929 or later needs 40 credits, or 10 years of work history to qualify for a Social Security retirement benefit based on a wage record, not five years. Still, Social Security considers 35 years of work history in computing the retirement benefit. It sounds like your wife has 20 credits and needs an additional 20 to qualify for a retirement benefit based on her work record.

Sending your wife to work for five years isn't going to achieve anything involving your combined Social Security retirement benefits. But the additional income she could earn would generally help your financial situation.

If she did have 40 credits to qualify for a benefit based on her work record, then you could look at the combination of her benefit and a spousal benefit. Then, you would check on the amount she would collect on a spousal benefit based on your work record at her full retirement age if you were to file and suspend at your full retirement age. That way you could earn delayed retirement credits up to age 70. You can check the numbers yourself using Bankrate's Social Security online calculator.

Thanks to Edward Lafferty, a public affairs specialist at the Social Security Administration, for his help with this reply.

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