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Ask Rusty: Spousal Benefits and Enrolling in Medicare

By Russell Gloor

Date:

Dear Rusty: I will be 65 [in a month]. [My] husband will be 61 in August. If I started collecting Social Security now would I only be able to collect on myself? My husband plans on collecting at 62. Will I be able to collect some of his when he starts collecting at age 62? Also, who can advise me about Medicare? Do I have to apply now? Signed: Needing Advice 

Dear Needing: Yes, if you start your Social Security benefits now, you can only collect your own benefits — you cannot collect a spousal benefit until your husband starts collecting his benefits. Whether you will get a spousal benefit from your husband’s record depends upon whether your own benefit at your full retirement age of 66 is less than half of your husband’s benefit at his full retirement age (FRA). 

If your husband will be 61 in 2019, his full retirement age for Social Security purposes is 66 and 8 months and if he starts his benefit at age 62 it will be 28.3 percent less than it would be at his full retirement age. If you start your benefit at age 65, it will be reduced by 6.7 percent from what you would get at your FRA of 66. Your spousal benefit will be based upon both of your FRA benefit amounts and, if your husband claims his benefit in August 2020 when he is 62, you will have already reached your FRA. So, if 50 percent of your husband’s FRA benefit amount is more than your FRA benefit amount you’ll get a spousal boost. But since you are taking your own benefit one year earlier than your FRA, the spousal boost will be added to your own reduced benefit amount, which means your total spousal benefit will be slightly less than half of your husband’s FRA benefit amount. To summarize: you can’t get a spousal benefit until your husband starts collecting his; you will only get a spousal benefit if 50 percent of your husband’s benefit at his FRA is more than your FRA benefit amount; and your spousal benefit amount will be slightly less if you claim your own benefit one year earlier than your FRA.

Regarding Medicare, whether you need to apply now depends on your current health insurance. If you have “creditable health insurance” coverage through an employer (either your own employer or your husband’s) which will continue after you are 65, you do not need to enroll in Part B or Part D at this time. You should check with the employer’s human resources department to make sure their coverage will remain first payer now that you are Medicare eligible. If you do not now have creditable coverage you need to enroll in Medicare now. You are still in your initial enrollment period, which begins three months before the month you turn 65 and ends three months after the month you are 65. If you do not apply within this time frame and you don’t have other creditable coverage you will be subject to a 10 percent Part B penalty (that never goes away) for each year you delay. If you apply now for your Social Security benefits to start in March, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A (hospitalization) and Part B, but you can choose to opt out of Part B (doctors and outpatient services) as part of the application process. However, if you change your mind and decide to wait to claim your Social Security benefits and you do not have other creditable coverage, you should still enroll in Medicare during your initial enrollment period by contacting your local Social Security office or by enrolling online at www.ssa.gov. The current monthly premium for Medicare Part B is $135.50 for a married couple filing a joint income tax return with a combined income (from all sources) of $170,000 or less.         

Russell Gloor is a certified Social Security advisor with the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC). The 1.7 million member AMAC says it is a senior advocacy organization.

Author note: This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity.

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