One spouse can receive a modest Social Security benefit at age 62, then switch to a greater spousal benefit at age 65. If an individual elects to receive his or her own retirement benefit as early as age 62, that benefit will be permanently reduced for each month before “full retirement age.”

Full retirement age is now 65 and eight months. Thus, a 62-year-old applying for benefits in today would receive less than 80 percent of her full retirement benefit.

A spouse also may collect benefits based on his or her spouse’s earnings record. Assuming Mary Jones had modest earnings and her husband John Jones generally earned the maximum amount subject to Social Security tax, Mary’s spousal benefit–as much as 50 percent of your retirement benefit–is likely to be greater than her own benefit.

As soon as John starts to receive Social Security benefits, Mary can receive those greater spousal benefits. However, if payment of spousal benefits occurs before her full retirement age, her benefit will be reduced: the amount of the reduction will depend on how many months there are between the starting date of spousal benefits and the date she reaches her full retirement age.

Thus, if John starts to receive Social Security benefits at his full retirement age and Mary also has reached her full retirement age, her spousal benefit would 50 percent of John’s benefit. If Mary starts to receive spousal benefits when she’s younger (but still over age 62), her benefit would be a smaller fraction of John’s benefit.