Spousal Social Security Benefit

Do You Know About the Spousal Social Security Benefit?

Updated on Mar 14 2018


There are retirement benefits that can easily ‘slip through the cracks’ as people are unaware they exist. The Social Security spousal benefit is one such retirement resource that people don’t know how to navigate as there are many details and variables.

The Social Security spousal benefit is available to:

  • Current spouses
  • Widowed spouses
  • Ex-spouses

Most financial advisors agree that Americans need some education around this benefit as you can maximize what you receive from Social Security – even if a spouse has never worked.

Learn how the Social Security spousal benefit offers additional financial resources for retirement by allowing you to maximize Social Security.

Who Is Eligible for a Spousal Benefit?

Current spouses and ex-spouses are eligible for this benefit, if the marriage lasted for 10 years and each spouse did not remarry prior to age 60. For married couples, here are the criteria:

  • The person claiming spousal benefits must be age 62 or older.
  • The spouse must be eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits (you can find out whether you’re eligible at www.benefits.gov/ssa).
  • The spouse must have already filed to receive benefit.

You are not eligible to receive a spousal benefit until your spouse files for their own benefit first. You can receive a spousal benefit from an ex-spouse’s social security accrual even if your ex has not yet filed for his or her own benefits – but your ex must be age 62 or older.

It’s important to note that taking a spousal benefit does not reduce or change the amount your current spouse, ex-spouse, or ex-spouse’s current spouse may receive.

How Much Do You Get from the Spousal Social Security Benefit?

As a spouse, you can claim a Social Security benefit based off your own earnings, as well as you collect the spousal benefit, which can provide up to 50% of the full retirement age (FRA) of your spouse’s Social Security benefit. The Social Security website can help you determine what your FRA, as it depends on your year of birth.

If you file before you reach your own FRA, your spousal benefit will be reduced because you are filing early. Basically, there is more flexibility and a better benefit if you wait until your full retirement age, which ranges from age 65 to age 67.

You are automatically entitled to receive either a benefit based on your own earnings or a spousal benefit based on your spouse’s or ex-spouse’s earnings. Social Security calculates and pays the higher amount.

For example, if you have reached full retirement age, you can file a restricted application to claim spousal benefits. This application allows you to receive spousal benefits while allowing your own Social Security benefits to grow until you reach the maximum amount at age 70.

There are Social Security laws and specifics based on your birthdate, so it’s important to do your research on when you can claim benefits. Careful timing allows you more Social Security benefit during retirement years.

Are There Special Considerations for the Divorced or Widowed?

Spousal Social Security benefits are only available if an individual has not remarried.

Unlike married couples, divorcees do not need to wait for former spouses to file for Social Security benefits. If you’re divorced and were married at least ten years and have been divorced for two years or more, you can file for spousal benefits at age 62, regardless of your spouse’s filing status. Your spouse needs to be age 62 or older, though.

Again, it’s important to remember that filing for spousal benefits before retirement age can result in a reduced monthly amount.

Widows and widowers can begin claiming benefits at age 60 or as early as age 50 – if they have a disability that occurred or started within seven years of their spouse’s death.

Here are other spousal Social Security benefits to keep in mind:

  • Once you and your spouse are receiving Social Security benefits, upon the death of your spouse, you will continue to receive your benefit, or your spouse’s, but not both.

  • A surviving spouse living in the same household is eligible to receive a one-time lump-sum payment of $255 upon the death of a spouse.

How Does Early Retirement Affect Benefits?

It’s important to keep in mind that an early retirement as well as collecting Social Security benefits early will decrease your benefit payout. Here are a few things to consider:

  • If you collect a spousal benefit and you begin collecting this benefit before you reach FRA, your benefit will be permanently reduced.
  • If you collect any type of benefit before your FRA, and you continue to work and receive earned income, you may owe some of your Social Security benefits back.

Also, if your spouse takes Social Security early, and you take a spousal benefit early, you will be significantly reducing the benefits that may be paid out over your lifetime and will have permanently reduced the survivor benefit for which either of you is eligible.

Once you reach FRA you can collect Social Security and earn any amount from working without being subject to any reduction in benefits or penalty. Married couples can get more in Social Security payments by coordinating the collection of Social Security benefits. You may want to consider running these numbers yourself or consulting with a financial advisor to see how the benefit breakdown works by using an advanced Social Security calculator.

How Can You Time the Spousal Social Security Benefit?

When married couples choose to maximize the highest-earning spouse’s benefit by having that person delay collecting until age 70, it acts as a powerful form of life insurance. In many cases, it provides the equivalent of $50,000 to $250,000 of life insurance benefit.

Married couples, in particular, can optimize their Social Security benefits by working together and making decisions that maximize their spousal and survivor benefits. You might want to sit down with your spouse and a financial advisor to strategize the best way to utilize these types of benefits for more retirement and lifetime income.

Do you need help with your retirement planning? Connect with a financial advisor today to start planning for a successful financial future.


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