Social Security Matters: Ask Rusty – Swiss immigrant asks about spouse benefits

Published 4:07 pm Monday, February 28, 2022

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By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor, Association of Mature American Citizens

Dear Rusty: I am originally from Switzerland. I moved to the States, got married in 2012 and became a U.S. citizen in 2016. I never worked in the United States but have 44 years of Social Security contribution in Switzerland and have received a pension from there since I turned 62 (I’m now 64). Is it correct that I cannot apply for Social Security here in the States on my husband’s account unless he is collecting his Social Security benefit? He will turn 62 this year but is still working and does not want to collect before 70. Signed: Immigrant from Switzerland

Dear Immigrant: Yes, it is correct that you cannot collect U.S. Social Security spousal benefits from your husband until he starts collecting his own Social Security benefit. As soon as your husband’s benefits start, you can apply for your benefit as his spouse, even though you aren’t eligible for U.S. Social Security on your own. As a U.S. citizen and current legal resident of the United States, you are eligible for U.S. spousal benefits from your husband even though you spent most of your life as a resident of Switzerland.

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Since you mentioned your contributions to the Swiss social security program, I’d like to point out that there is a Social Security “totalization” agreement between the U.S. and Switzerland which permits using some of your Swiss credits to qualify for U.S. Social Security retirement benefits, but since you have never worked in the U.S. that bilateral agreement won’t work for you. To use some of your Swiss credits to get U.S. Social Security on your own, you would need to have at least six (6) credits from working in the U.S. in a job which contributed to the U.S. Social Security program. Unless you have at least six U.S. Social Security credits, you cannot use the bilateral agreement with Switzerland to get your own Social Security retirement benefit, so you will need to wait until your husband claims his Social Security to start collecting spouse benefits from him. Assuming your spousal benefit from your husband will be higher than you would be eligible for on your own anyway, not getting your own Social Security retirement benefit using the bilateral totalization agreement is inconsequential.

You should be aware, too, that by your husband waiting until age 70 to claim his maximum SS benefit, and since you will have passed your own full retirement age by that time, the higher amount he gets at age 70 will be your survivor benefit if your husband should pass before you do. Upon his death you would get his full age 70 benefit instead of the smaller spousal benefit you will get while you are both living. Your benefit as his spouse while both of you are living will be 50% of the benefit your husband is entitled to at his full retirement age, but your benefit as his surviving widow will be 100% of the benefit he is receiving at his death.