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Do You Know About the Spousal Social Security Benefit?

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenJuly 23, 2018

The spousal Social Security benefit is one of the most generous benefits available to retirees, but many people don’t understand how the benefit works or are unaware it exists.

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

Are You Eligible for the Spousal Social Security Benefit?

Most financial advisors agree that Americans need some more education around the spousal Social Security benefit. Since you can maximize what you receive from Social Security, it’s worth educating yourself about the benefit.

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The benefit is available to current spouses, widowed spouses and ex-spouses. 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: Benefits.gov)
  • The spouse must have already filed to receive the benefit

It’s important to keep in mind that 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.

Spousal Social Security Benefits

A recent Social Security report found that 2.3 million individuals received at least part of their benefit as a spouse of an entitled worker.

Some of these spouses had benefits of their own but were eligible to receive a higher benefit because the spousal benefit amount was greater than their own benefit.

Here are the benefit offerings:

  1. As a spouse, you can claim a Social Security benefit based off your own earnings, as well as 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

There are Social Security laws and more 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 benefits during retirement years.

Ways to Get the Benefit if You’re 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 10 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.

Learn more about benefits for your spouse from the Social Security Administration.

Why Timing Affects Your Benefit Amount

Timing is important when claiming the spousal Social Security benefit.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Married couples may choose to maximize the benefit by having the highest-earning spouse delay collecting the benefit until age 70
  • The extra money can provide excess funds to help with life insurance or other needed income
  • Try to work together with your spouse to make decisions that maximize your spousal and survivor benefit

Careful planning and strategizing can help you find the best way to utilize these types of benefits for more retirement and lifetime income.

For more information or retirement planning help, connect with a financial advisor today to start planning for a successful financial future.

Are you planning on taking advantage of the spousal Social Security benefit? Why or why not? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Dana Larsen
Dana Larsen
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