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How Social Security Spousal Benefits Work and What You Should Know

How Social Security Spousal Benefits Work and What You Should Know

December 12, 2019

Spousal benefits for Social Security are allowed for current and ex-spouses (provided you were married for more than ten years before divorce). The amount you’re entitled to depends on a few factors, such as the work history of you and your spouse, whether or not you’re still married, and the age you are when you start taking a spousal benefit. Below are answers to frequently asked questions to help you understand how spousal benefits work for married couples.

Can I receive spousal benefits along with my own Social Security benefit?

No. If your work history entitles you to Social Security—you are only allowed to receive the higher amount. So, if your benefits are more than your spouse’s, you’d take yours and are not allowed to take a spousal benefit.

Can I claim Social Security spousal benefits when my spouse reaches full retirement age (FRA)?

When your spouse claims his benefit—you can claim yours. And, if he decides to delay until he is 70 years old, you also have to wait until that time to begin your spousal benefit. However, if you’ve never worked and/or don’t have the work history that entitles you to your own Social Security benefits, you can claim and receive spousal benefits at age 62.

How much will my spousal benefit be if I claim it when I am 62?

This depends on the year you were born and your own FRA. And, if you file at 62, you’re entitled to 32.5 percent to 35 percent of your spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA). This calculator can help you determine the exact percentage. If you wait to claim at your FRA, you receive 50 percent of your spouse’s PIA. If you claim your spousal benefit early and unless you meet certain qualifications for doing so, your benefit amount will always be lower—so consult with your financial advisor before making this decision.

Am I entitled to 50 percent of my spouse’s PIA if I take my reduced benefit when I am 62 and later file for spousal benefits when I reach full retirement age?

No. In fact, if you do this and file for spousal benefits later, you end up receiving less than 50 percent of your spouse’s PIA. What happens here is the difference between your PIA and your spouse’s is added to your existing reduced benefit. Because the final amount ends up being less than the 50 percent of your spouse’s PIA, this may not be a good move, depending on your financial situation.

Can I file for spousal benefits and allow my own Social Security benefit to accrue delayed credits?

If you were born before January, 2, 1954, you can. But, (and this is important) if you were born on or after this date, you are required to file for your own benefits and spousal benefits at the same time. You’re paid your benefit first, which stops the accumulation of delayed credits. Also, remember, you’ll only receive spousal benefits if your PIA is less than 50 percent of your spouse’s. If this is the case and assuming you retire at your FRT, the difference between your PIA and his is added to your own benefit to make your total benefit equal to 50 percent of your spouse’s PIA. If you apply before your FRT, your benefit and your spousal benefit are reduced according to early claiming rules.

Can I file and then suspend my Social Security benefits so my spouse can receive a spousal benefit?

As of April 30, 2016, this is no longer permitted. That strategy allowed you to file for your benefits, which then allowed your spouse to file for spousal benefits, and then to suspend yours in order to earn delayed credits. Today, if you want your spouse to receive a spousal benefit, you must file and receive your own benefit.

Discuss Social Security spousal benefits with your financial advisor before you apply.

Keep in mind the above are the basic rules for married spouses. While you can take your spousal benefit when you reach 62 years of age, depending on when you were born, you can choose to delay this benefit until you turn 67 to a maximize these benefits. Different rules apply to ex-spouses and widows/widowers, so it is critical you seek professional advice before filing for spousal benefits.

Additional reading:

Social Security Spousal Benefits Explained