Social Security’s deemed filing rules

Alice: I had 20 years of significant earnings before working for a government agency. I am 66 and will wait until 70 to collect my Social Security. My husband, who is 63, would like to collect on my record and collect on his record when he is 67. If he does this, how would Social Security calculate his benefit?

Phil Moeller: Unfortunately, your question is moot here. Your husband cannot claim a spousal benefit until you have filed for your own benefit, which you do not plan to do until age 70. And even if you filed sooner, his filing for a spousal benefit would automatically trigger his filing for his own retirement benefit – a situation that Social Security describes as a “deemed filing.”. He then would be entitled to receive the higher of the two benefits, but not both of them.

Normally, I recommend that the spouse with the higher Social Security earnings record wait until 70 to file. This will guarantee that the surviving spouse will receive the largest possible survivor benefit, regardless of which spouse dies first.

Of course, different ages among spouses and the realities of health and financial needs often get in the way of theoretical advice!