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Malti Patel

Q. I have never worked but my spouse has. What will my benefits be?

A. You can be entitled to as much as one-half of your spouse's benefit amount when you reach full retirement age. If you want to get Social Security retirement benefits before you reach full retirement age, the amount of your benefit is reduced permanently. The amount of reduction depends on when you will reach full retirement age. For example:

If your full retirement age is 65, you can get 37.5 percent of your spouse's unreduced benefit at age 62;

If your full retirement age is 66, you can get 35 percent of your spouse's unreduced benefit at age 62;

If your full retirement age is 67, you can get 32.5 percent of your spouse's unreduced benefit at age 62.

The amount of your benefit increases at later ages up to the maximum of 50 percent at full retirement age. If your full retirement age is other than those shown here, the amount of your benefit will fall between 32.5 percent and 37 percent at age 62.

However, if you are taking care of a child who is under age 16 or who gets Social Security disability benefits, you get full benefits, regardless of age.

Your spouse must file for benefits before you can begin receiving them on his or her record.

You can get Medicare when you reach age 65 or, if you are disabled or have permanent kidney failure, you can get Medicare if you are younger than 65.

Medicare provides hospital insurance, medical insurance and prescription drug coverage. Hospital insurance, sometimes called Part A, covers inpatient hospital care and certain follow-up care. Your spouse already has paid for it as part of his or her Social Security taxes while working. Medical insurance, sometimes called Part B, pays for physicians' services and some other services not covered by hospital insurance. Prescription drug coverage, sometimes called Part D, helps pay for medications doctors prescribe for treatment. Medical insurance and prescription drug coverage are optional, and you must pay monthly premiums.

If you are already getting Social Security benefits when you turn 65, your Medicare starts automatically. If you are not getting Social Security, you should sign up for Medicare before your 65th birthday if your spouse is at least age 62 and has worked long enough

Q. I am 65 and my wife is 62 and receiving spouse's benefits. When does she qualify for Medicare benefits?

A. Most people must wait until age 65 to qualify for Medicare benefits. Some people can get Medicare at any age. This includes people who:

" Have been getting Social Security disability benefits for 24 months.

" Have kidney failure and require dialysis.

" Have had a kidney transplant; or

" Receive disability benefits because they suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease).

Q. My husband and I are both entitled to our own Social Security benefits. Will our combined benefits be reduced because we are married?

A. No. When each person of a married couple works in employment covered under Social Security and they meet all other eligibility requirements to receive Social Security benefits, their lifetime earnings are calculated independently to determine their Social Security benefit amount. Therefore, each spouse receives a monthly benefit amount based on his or her own earnings. Couples are not penalized simply because they are married.

Q. If a husband and wife retire at the full retirement age, does each receive their full benefit amount?

A. Yes. Social Security imposes no "marriage penalty" when two members of a couple are each entitled on their own earnings record.

These questions and answers are courtesy of Malti Patel, 1607 Wood Creek Lane, Allen, Texas-75002. Patel published a book "Lifting the Mists: A simple guide to a complex welfare system for elderly immigrants and their families." Contact Patel at to order the book.

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