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Social Security Mailbox

Early Retirement and Spousal Benefits

At 66, can I work without an earnings penalty?

Q. My wife just turned 66, her full retirement age, and I am already retired. Four years ago, she took early retirement at age 62 on her own work record. I'm wondering, can she now convert her benefit to a spousal benefit and get an amount equal to half of what I'm getting? Also I retired at 62 on disability. Should that make a difference in the amount she can collect?

See also: What's the best age to claim benefits?

A. In answer to your first question, because your wife took her own Social Security benefit before her full retirement age, she will always get a reduced check based on her own record and as your spouse. Therefore, she cannot collect a spousal benefit rate that is half of yours upon reaching full retirement age.

However, if the spousal benefit is higher than what she is getting on her own work record, she can collect a combination of benefits equaling the higher spousal benefit.

Your receipt of disability benefits makes no difference. Social Security pays spouse's benefits on the record of a disabled worker using the same rules that are used on the record of a retired worker.

You can find more information about disability and also about spousal benefits on the Social Security website.

Q. If I collect Social Security at 66 (my full retirement age), can I work full time without penalty?

A. Yes. Once you pass your full retirement age, you can earn as much as you wish without any reduction in benefits.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox?

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