How Collecting Early Retirement Affects Spousal Dependents and Survivors Benefits

Claiming retirement benefits early won't affect your spouse's retirement benefits but it will lower her survivors benefit.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Question: Does My Claiming Retirement Early Lower My Spouse's Benefit?

I'm turning 62 this year and I'm considering claiming my retirement benefits early, since I was just denied disability benefits. If I do, will this lower my wife's benefits too?

Answer: It Lowers Retirement Benefits but Not Survivors Benefits

As you know, claiming Social Security before your full retirement age, which is 67 for those born in 1960 or later, will lower your monthly benefit amount permanently.

Social Security reduces your benefits using the early retirement penalty so that you'll receive the same amount between now and the average life expectancy, whether you claim at age 67 and get the standard amount, age 62 and get a smaller amount, or 70 and get an increased amount.

That said, if you claim benefits early but you live past a certain age—called your "break-even point"—you'll wind up collecting less in total lifetime benefits than if you had waited to claim them at full retirement age.

Now, to answer your question: your claiming retirement benefits early will affect some types of benefits but not others.

How Dependents Benefits Are Affected by a Spouse's Early Retirement

If you claim your Social Security retirement benefits early, this won't affect your wife's dependents benefits, which are also called spousal retirement benefits. As long as your wife waits until her full retirement age to claim her spousal benefits, she can collect the full amount. That's because your dependents' benefits are always based on your primary insurance amount, which is based on your earnings record at your full retirement age.

Whether or not you claim benefits early doesn't affect the amount of dependents benefits your spouse can collect.

What If My Spouse Collects Survivors Benefits Early?

If your wife claims her spousal retirement benefit at age 62, or at any time before her full retirement age, her spousal benefits will be lowered permanently.

Does a Wife Get Half of Her Husband's Social Security?

Spousal retirement benefits are half of your primary insurance amount—50% of what you would have received if you had waited until full retirement age to claim benefits.

How Survivors Benefits Are Affected by a Spouse's Early Retirement

Survivors benefits are handled differently. If you claim retirement benefits early, this will lower your wife's survivors benefits (also called a "widow's benefit" or "deceased husband's benefit"), should you die before her. This is because, at your death, your wife will be able to collect the same amount you were entitled to before you died.

If your retirement benefit was lowered because of early retirement deductions, or increased because of delayed retirement (up until age 70), your wife's survivors benefit will be similarly decreased or increased.

What If My Spouse Collects Survivors Benefits Early?

If your spouse were to collect a survivors benefit before reaching full retirement age for survivors benefits, their survivors' benefit would be decreased. Surviving spouses can collect benefits starting at age 60, but collecting them before full retirement age for surviving spouses still counts as claiming benefits early and is subject to the early retirement reduction.

So if you collected retirement benefits early and then your wife collected her survivors benefits early, she would only get a small portion of what your full retirement age benefit would have been.

What Is Full Retirement Age for Survivors?

Full retirement age for survivors will eventually be the same as for workers, age 67, but for the next five years, it's not. It's slightly different. For example, someone who was born in 1960 currently has a full retirement age of 67 for their own benefits, but a full retirement age of 66 years and 8 months for survivors benefits.

Here is full retirement age chart for surviving spouses now in their 60s and younger. By 2029, the full retirement age will be 67 for both workers and surviving spouses.

Year of Birth

Full Retirement Age for Survivors


66 and 2 months


66 and 4 months


66 and 6 months


66 and 8 months


66 and 10 months

1962 and later


Source: Social Security Chart for Survivors Benefits

Are Mother's and Father's Benefits Affected by a Spouse's Early Retirement?

There is an exception here if your spouse is caring for your dependent minor or disabled children after your death. In this situation, your wife would not get an early retirement penalty regardless of the age she claimed this "mother's benefit."

To find out more about benefit amounts and when it makes sense to claim them, see Nolo's article on how couples can maximize their Social Security benefits.

Updated January 18, 2024

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