A reader asks:

“If I elect to start receiving my Social Security benefit at 62, can I then apply for and switch to an ex spouse benefit at 66? My projected retirement benefit at FRA is $1700, his is $2700. At 62 my reduced benefit will be about $1200.”

This would be a mistake, I believe, in that it would subject you to the dreaded Social Security “deeming” rules.

By the way, you do not say how old your ex-spouse is so I will assume he is older than you. I am also assuming that you were married at least 10 years, as required for a divorced spouse benefit.

First, remember that your ex-spouse needs to be age 62 and have filed for his own retirement benefit before you are eligible to file for a divorced spouse benefit. If the marriage ended more than 2 years ago, he does not have to have filed. Also, the divorced spouse benefit is worth half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement age (FRA) benefit if you file for it when YOU reach your FRA. It is reduced if you claim it early, perhaps to 0. You can file for early spousal and retirement benefits starting at age 62.

If you apply for a benefit before your FRA and you are eligible for both a divorced spouse benefit on your ex-spouse’s record and a retirement benefit on your own record, you will be deemed to have filed for both benefits and you will only be paid the higher of the two. In addition, because you filed before your FRA, the benefit will be reduced.

In your case, since your retirement benefit is larger than the divorced spouse benefit, if you file early you will only be paid your retirement benefit and it will be reduced by 25% for early claiming, to $1,275 by my calculation, $1,200 by yours. In addition, you forever lose the ability to take only a divorced spouse benefit while letting your own, higher, retirement benefit earn delayed retirement credits at 8%/year until age 70.

The ability to take only one benefit while delaying another is only available beginning at your FRA. If you pursued this strategy, your own retirement benefit would grow by 32% over the FRA amount to about $2,244/month starting at age 70, before cost of living adjustments. You would collect a full divorced spouse benefit of $1,350/month (assuming $2,700 is your ex-husband’s FRA benefit) for the four years while you were letting your own benefit grow. Getting paid almost $65,000, before cost of living adjustments, while you wait for your retirement benefit to grow is too good a deal to pass up.

Given the above, if you can afford to delay until your FRA, you should. Claiming at age 62 will leave lots of benefit dollars on the table that you paid for all your working life and are rightfully yours to enjoy for as long as you live.

Good luck.