Happy 80th Social Security – You're Never Too Old to Clarify Claiming Strategies

August 26, 2015

Social Security claiming strategies can be confusing. To help clarify, we want to share three commonly asked questions we receive from financial advisors.

Eighty years ago, on August 14, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed The Social Security Act into law to provide a plan for social insurance to America’s workforce "against the hazards and vicissitudes of life."* In 2014, more than 59 million Americans received almost $863 billion in Social Security benefits, according to the Social Security Administration.

In those 80 years, there have been a lot of Social Security questions asked and answered, income strategies have evolved, and Social Security has changed, too.

It is important to stay current and understand how it all works. This is especially true when it comes to claiming strategies for Social Security as they apply to married couples and divorced individuals. To help with this, here are answers to three commonly asked claiming questions concerning spousal benefits.


1. If I claim a spousal benefit on or after my full retirement age (FRA), can I later switch to my own retirement benefit at age 70?

Answer: Yes. By claiming on or after FRA, you have the option to claim one of the following:

  • Spousal benefits (assuming one’s spouse has begun receiving benefits or has filed for benefits)
  • Retirement benefits based on your own work history

If you choose spousal benefits, you can switch to your own retirement benefits (which will earn delayed retirement credits up to age 70).


2. If I claim a spousal benefit prior to my FRA, can I switch to my own retirement benefit after attaining my FRA?

Answer: No. Because of Social Security’s “deemed” filing rule, if you apply for benefits prior to your FRA, you do not get are not allowed the choice. You are “deemed” to have applied for both your own retirement benefit and a spousal benefit at the same time. If your spousal benefit is greater than your own retirement benefit, Social Security will make up the difference so that your benefit will equal your spousal benefit. Because you collected prior to FRA, the spousal benefit amount will be reduced.


3. Am I able to claim benefits based on my ex-spouse’s work record?

Answer: Yes. A divorced spouse can receive benefits on his/her ex-spouse’s Social Security work record if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. The divorced spouse claiming the benefits must be age 62 or older and unmarried, and the ex-spouse worker must be eligible for benefits.

This is just a sampling of Social Security questions. As you can imagine, there are many, many more.


For answers to other Social Security questions, please feel free to contact Retirement Strategies Group at (800)722-2333, ext. 3939, or e-mail us at RSG@PacificLife.com.

*Price, Thomas E. "Fifty Years Ago." Social Security History. Social Security Administration, n.d.


Picture of Steve Chmelka

Steve is a Senior Retirement Strategies Consultant with the Retirement Solutions Division at Pacific Life. He brings more than 25 years of industry experience in financial planning and wealth management, including detailed knowledge of both employer-sponsored retirement plans and retirement-planning strategies.

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