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How to Maximize Social Security Spousal Benefits

For many Americans, Social Security is the bedrock of their entire retirement income plan. But when it comes to claiming Social Security benefits as a married couple there are a lot of details to keep in mind. Making the most of your Social Security benefits can also require a bit of strategy.

There are ultimately more options available to married couples than to single individuals and spouses may be eligible for spousal benefits up to half of what their partner receives.1 If you earn less than your spouse, you may receive more from Social Security spousal benefits than you would receive on your own. 

Keep in mind that while there are more options available to claim these benefits, there are also more opportunities to make mistakes, which can be very costly. In order to make the most of your benefits good decision-making can help you live more comfortably whereas incorrect Social Security claiming strategies could do the opposite and cost you hundreds of thousands in the end. 

What Are the Rules when Applying for Social Security Spousal Benefits?

Important note:  The following rules apply to those who were born after Jan 2, 1954. If you were born before that, you may have retained some additional possibilities that were taken away with the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.    

When applying for Social Security spousal benefits, you can expect: 

  • The ability to receive 50% of your spouse’s Social Security benefit as your spousal benefit. 
  • To receive the higher of either your benefit or the spousal benefit, if you have an employment history.2 
  • The ability to receive spousal benefits if you have been married for at least a year. 
  • The ability to apply for benefits based on your former spouse’s earnings if you have been divorced for at least two years and the marriage lasted for 10 or more years. 
  • That if you start benefits early, this may lead to a permanent reduction in payments.

In order to take full advantage of your spousal Social Security benefits, be aware of the amount you might be eligible for, as well as the timing around your claim. These details can potentially impact how much you receive. 

Eligibility for Social Security Spousal Benefits

Before applying for benefits, you should be married for at least one year. In addition, your spouse must have already started to collect benefits and you’ll need to be at least 62 years old.3

If you’ve experienced multiple marriages and/or divorces, it’s up to you to choose whichever spousal benefit is more impactful, given the other requirements have been met. Additionally, if you have employment experience you may be eligible for a personal benefit. In this case, you may receive your own benefit if it is greater than the spousal benefit in question. 

How Much to Expect

By visiting the Social Security Administration website you can learn more about the spousal Social Security payment amount you should expect to receive. You can expect your spousal benefit to be roughly 50% of your spouse’s benefit at their full retirement age.4 The year and months of age when they are eligible to receive their full benefit is considered their full retirement age.  

When it comes to delaying your payments, spousal and personal benefits often differ. If you delay your personal benefits until after your retirement age occurs, the benefit would then increase 8% per year until age 70.  However, spousal benefits will max out at your full retirement age and there is no benefit to delaying past that time. 

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/31/business/social-security-retirement.html
  2. https://www.thebalance.com/clearing-spousal-benefits-confusion-2388948
  3. https://socialsecurityintelligence.com/social-security-spousal-benefits/
  4. https://blog.ssa.gov/understanding-spouses-benefits/