Your Financial Future:
Your Guide To Understanding Social Security Spousal Benefits
Social Security is a vital source of retirement income for most women. For this reason, it is important to understand how the spousal benefit works and how it can impact the amount of Social Security income you receive. While this fact sheet is written for women, the information here is the same for men who may want to claim the spousal benefit based on their wife (or ex-wife's) earning record.
As a spouse, you can receive a Social Security benefit based on your own earnings record, or collect a spousal benefit in the amount of 50% of your husband's Social Security benefit, but you do not receive the total amount of both. You are automatically entitled to receive whichever benefit amount provides you the higher monthly amount. In order to qualify for Social Security spousal benefits, you must be at least 62 years old and your husband must also be collecting his own benefits.
Additionally, if you are the higher earner, your husband can apply to collect spousal benefits based on your work record. It is important to note that claiming a spousal benefit does not impact the benefit amount received by the worker whose earning record is being used.
Taking Benefits Early
A full spousal benefit is worth 50% of the non-claiming spouse's retirement benefit at their full retirement age (known as the "primary insurance amount", or PIA). It does not matter when the non-claiming spouse actually filed for their own retirement benefit. Therefore, even if your current or former spouse is receiving a reduced benefit as a result of early claiming, your spousal benefit will not be affected. What can impact your spousal benefit, however, is if YOU claim the benefit before your own full retirement age. For example, if your full retirement age were 66, then the following reductions to benefits would apply:
• At age 65, you would receive 45.8% of your spouse's benefit.
• At age 64, you would receive 41.7% of your spouse's benefit.
• At age 63, you would receive 37.5% of your spouse's benefit.
• At age 62, you would receive 35% of your spouse's benefit.
It is also worth noting that unlike delaying your own worker benefit, there is no credit for delaying a spousal benefit beyond full retirement age.
You can receive benefits as a divorced spouse on your ex-spouse's Social Security record, even if he has remarried and his current wife is collecting benefits based on his record. However, there are a few eligibility requirements:
• You must have been married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years.
• You must be at least 62 years old. However, if your ex-spouse is deceased and you are currently unmarried, you may collect benefits as early as age 60 as a surviving divorced spouse. If he is deceased and you are disabled, you can collect benefits as early as age 50.
• Your ex-spouse must be eligible for benefits. If he is eligible but is not currently receiving benefits, you can still qualify for spousal benefits if you have been divorced for two or more years.
• You must not be currently married. If you remarried and divorced your second spouse, you can claim benefits from either your first or your second husband as long as each marriage lasted at least 10 years.
• If your spouse passes away, you can collect survivor's benefits as early as age 60. You are eligible to receive benefits based on his full Social Security benefit amount (but note that that amount will still be reduced if you claim the benefits before your own full retirement age.)
• If your ex-spouse is deceased and you remarry before age 60, you cannot receive survivor's benefits unless the latter marriage ends (whether it be through death, divorce, or annulment). If you remarry after age 60, however, you can continue to receive benefits on your former spouse's Social Security record. However, if your current spouse is also a Social Security beneficiary and you would receive a larger benefit from his work record than you would from your former spouse's record, you should apply for spousal benefits on your current spouse's record. You cannot receive both benefits.
• Regardless of your age, if you are caring for your deceased husband's child or children, you would be eligible to receive benefits for raising them until they are 16 years old. These children can then continue to receive benefits based on your husband's work record until they are 18 or 19, as long as they are unmarried. If a child is still a full-time student (no higher grade than grade 12) when they turn 18, they can continue to receive benefits until 2 months after they turn 19 or until they graduate, whichever comes first. Children who are disabled can also continue to receive benefits after they turn 18 years old.
Applying for Benefits
You can apply for benefits online by going to ssa.gov. You can also apply over the telephone by calling 1-800-772-1213, or apply in person by visiting your local Social Security office.
To make the application process easier, you should know your spouse's (or ex-spouse's) date of birth and Social Security number. You may also be asked to provide certain documents as proof of eligibility, such as your birth certificate or other proof of birth, naturalization papers, W-2 forms, a marriage certificate, or divorce papers if you're applying as a divorced spouse.