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How Does Social Security Spousal Benefits Work

How Much Is My Spouse’s Fra Benefit

Social Security Spousal Benefits – MADE EASY to Understand

So, lets say your spouse retires at his or her FRA and is eligible for a benefit of $1,600. Then, you would in turn be eligible at your FRA for $800. If you contributed to Social Security, you may wonder if your spousal benefit will be higher than your own benefit. Thankfully, you dont need to worry.

Do I Qualify For Spousal Benefits From Social Security If I’m Divorced

Being divorced doesn’t necessarily mean you lose spousal support from Social Security. To make a claim, your former spouse has to be eligible for benefits and your marriage needs to have lasted 10 years or longer. In addition, you have to be unmarried to receive the spousal benefit. It’s important to note that the marital status of the insured individual doesn’t factor into your eligibility.

In cases where your ex-spouse has not started to collect benefits but qualifies to do so, as long as you’ve been divorced for at least two consecutive years.

How The Restricted Application Strategy Works For Eligible Spouses

If you reach full retirement age and are eligible for your own benefits as well as spousal benefits, you may choose to collect benefits under your spouse’s account now and defer your own benefits until later. To file a restricted application, both you and your spouse must be of full retirement age, and you both must have filed for Social Security benefits.

Filing a restricted application can result in a higher benefit amount when you later file for Social Security under your own account. The reason is you will have accrued delayed retirement credits for each year you deferred retirement, up to age 70, when benefits max out.

Each year of delayed retirement is worth an additional 8% in benefits for those born between 1943 and 1954. So, for example, a person born in 1952 who retires in 2021 at age 69 will receive an additional 24% over and above what they would have received had they started collecting in 2018 at their full retirement age. However, only one person per couple may collect spousal benefits while earning delayed retirement credits on his or her own account.

And, to repeat, this option is no longer available to anyone who wasn’t born on or before Jan. 1, 1954.

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Who Is Eligible For Spousal Social Security Benefits

In general, you may be eligible if you are married, divorced, or widowed and your spouse was eligible for benefits.

Those who apply for spousal benefits must have been married for at least one year. Your spouse must also have begun receiving Social Security benefits unless you are widowed. In the latter case, you may be able to receive the full amount of your late spouses benefits as opposed to the spousal benefit, assuming their benefit is higher than yours. However, you will not be eligible to receive your late spouses benefit if you remarry.

Even ex-spouses can file based on your earnings. The requirements for claiming benefits based on your ex-spouses work record include:

  • You must have been married at least 10 years.
  • You must have been divorced from the spouse for at least two consecutive years.
  • You are unmarried.
  • Your ex-spouse must be entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
  • The benefit you would receive from your work record would be less than this spousal benefit.

In theory, a person could marry someone new every 10 years and give them a spousal benefit as a parting gift, says Russell D. Knight, an attorney in Chicago. Its better than nothing.

But its not like that money comes out of your monthly benefit check, so rest easy.

Who Qualifies For Social Security Spousal Benefits

Social Security Benefits: Strategies for Divorcing Spouses

If your spouse has filed for Social Security benefits, you can also collect benefits based on the spouse’s work record, if:

  • You are at least 62 years old.
  • Regardless of your age, if you care for a child who is entitled to receive benefits on your spouseâs record, and who is under age 16 or disabled.

When you apply for spousal benefits, you will also be applying for benefits based on your own work history. If you’re eligible for benefits based on your own earnings, and that benefit amount is higher than your spousal benefit, that’s what you’ll get. If it is lower, you’ll get the spousal benefit.

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Can A Spouse Receive Social Security

They have no benefit of their own, but thanks to the Social Security spousal benefit available under their spouses work record, they can still receive payments. This particular benefit doesnt just provide retirement income, either. As an eligible spouse, you could also receive premium-free Medicare benefits.

Who Can Get A Spousal Benefit

Current spouses and ex-spouses can both get the spousal benefit. You must have been married for over 10 years to get this income. You also must be age 62 to file for or receive a spousal benefit, but you can wait longer. If you wait until you are at full retirement age to file, you will get a larger amount than if you file sooner.

If you are still married, you must wait until your spouse files for their own benefit. There are other rules if you aren’t still married.

You can receive a spousal benefit even if your ex-spouse has not yet filed for his or her own benefits. Your ex-spouse must be age 62 or older.

Also Check: Help With Social Security Disability Benefits

Can My Foreign Spouse Claim Social Security Benefits In Any Country

US citizens and their non-US spouses can claim Social Security benefits in almost any country in the world. However, there are some exceptions to this.

First, no one can claim US Social Security benefits while living in Cuba or North Korea. In addition to this, there are a number of countries where it is generally impossible for the US government to send Social Security payments. These include:

However, certain eligible persons may be able to claim Social Security benefits even in these countries. And regardless, if you move away from one of the above countries, you can claim the Social Security payments that were withheld during your stay.

Again, the rules for claiming Social Security benefits can vary quite a bit depending on where you and your spouse live. For more information, we recommend consulting a qualified expat tax professional.

Benefits For Your Children

Social Security Spousal Benefits – The Basics

When you qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, your children may also qualify to receive benefits on your record. Your eligible child can be your biological child, adopted child, or stepchild. A dependent grandchild may also qualify.

To receive benefits, the child must:

Benefits stop when children reach age 18 unless they are disabled. However, if the child is still a full-time student at a secondary school at age 18, benefits will continue until the child graduates or until two months after the child becomes age 19, whichever is first.

Benefits paid for your child will not decrease your retirement benefit. In fact, the value of the benefits they may receive, added to your own, may help you decide if taking your benefits sooner may be more advantageous.

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How Does Early Retirement Affect Benefits

Social Security is based on your lifetime earnings. Anyone will lose part of their own benefit if they retire early.

If you begin getting a spousal benefit before you reach your FRA, your benefit will be permanently lower. This is true unless youre caring for a qualifying child. Depending on how early you retire, this income will be reduced by as much as 35%.

You can find out the exact amount by putting various ages into the Social Security Administrations website. The website will show you what you can get at different ages and how working longer will change your income after you retire.

Second Change: Voluntary Suspension Of Benefits

Before the change:

  • A worker at full retirement age or older applied for retirement benefits and then voluntarily suspended payment of their retirement benefits.
  • The workers voluntary suspension permitted a spousal benefit to be paid to their spouse while the worker was not collecting retirement benefits.
  • The worker would then restart their retirement benefits later, for example at age 70, with an increase for every month retirement benefits were suspended.

How did the law change?

For requests submitted on or after April 30, 2016:

  • You can still voluntarily suspend benefit payments at your full retirement age to earn higher benefits for delaying.
  • During a voluntary suspension, other benefits payable on your record, such as benefits to your spouse, are also suspended.
  • If you have suspended your benefits, you cannot continue receiving other benefits on another persons record.

There are some exceptions. If you are a divorced spouse, you can continue receiving a divorced spousal benefit even if your ex-spouse voluntarily suspends his or her retirement benefit.

What is the reason for this change? It makes it fair to delay payments for the workers spouse, and dependents if the worker has not retired or is in suspense. Couples can no longer simultaneously receive a benefit and get a bonus for delaying to file.


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What Happens If The Deceased Received Monthly Benefits

If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, you must return the benefit received for the month of death and any later months.

For example, if the person died in July, you must return the benefits paid in August. How you return the benefits depends on how the deceased received benefits:

  • For funds received by direct deposit, contact the bank or other financial institution. Request that any funds received for the month of death or later be returned to us.
  • Benefits received by check must be returned to us as soon as possible. Do not cash any checks received for the month in which the person dies or later.

You Can Undo A Social Security Benefits Claiming Decision


There arent many times in life you can take a mulligan. But Social Security offers you the chance for a do-over. Lets say you claimed your benefit, but now regret the decision and wish you had waited. During the first 12 months of claiming benefits, you can withdraw your application. You will have to repay all of the benefits youve received, along with any spousal benefits, but when you restart benefits, youll receive a larger amount, just as you would have if you had delayed filing in the first place.

If it has been more than 12 months since you filed for Social Security, you cant withdraw your application and restart benefits at a later date. But early retirees who have returned to the workforce are not totally out of luck: Once you reach full retirement age, you can suspend benefits until age 70. This will enable you to earn delayed-retirement credits of 8% a year . This can add up to tens of thousands of dollars for many people, says William Meyer, chief executive of Social Security Solutions.

Read Also: How Do I Apply For My Social Security Benefits

Divorced Know This Significant Exception To The Rule

When planning your Social Security filing strategy, its important to note that you cannot file for a spousal benefit until the higher earning spouse files for their benefit.

But this does not apply if your are filing for a spousal benefit from an ex-spouse.

If your ex-spouse has not applied for retirement benefits you can receive benefits on his or her record if you have been divorced for at least two years and your ex-spouse is at least 62.

Can I Still Collect Spouse And Survivor Benefits After Divorce

You may be eligible for spousal benefits based on your ex-spouses earnings history if you were married for at least 10 years, have been divorced for at least two years, and both you and your ex-spouse have reached age 62.

These benefits include the same 50% that applies to married couples. But as with survivor benefits, if you earned a government pension while not paying into Social Security, your benefit could be reduced as a result.

Should your ex-spouse pass away, you may also be eligible for survivor benefits. You could receive the same benefits as a widow or widower, without affecting the benefits of other survivors. Similarly, if your ex-spouse remarries, you can still receive benefits without impacting the benefits of his or her current spouse.

Read Also: Explain Spousal Social Security Benefits

How Much Is The Social Security Spousal Benefit

If youre eligible and can qualify, the spousal benefit can be as much as 50% of the higher-earning spouses full retirement age benefit.

If your spouses full retirement age benefit amounts to $2,000 per month, your spousal benefit at your full retirement age could amount to $1,000 per month.

Its important to note that this benefit cannot be more than 50% of the higher-earning spouses full retirement benefitbut it can be less!

Thats because the benefit is also based on your filing age. Depending on how old you are when you file, the spousal benefit amount will range between 32.5% and 50% of the higher-earning spouses full retirement benefit.

Check out the chart below to get an idea of how the benefit works and what your payment might be if you can take advantage of spousal benefits. The chart assumes that your full retirement age is 67 and your spouses full retirement age benefit is $2,000 per month.

Did you notice the steep penalty for filing early? You receive significantly less in payments if you choose to file sooner rather than wait until full retirement age.

You may have also noticed that the spousal benefit does not increase beyond your full retirement age. When considering your own Social Security benefit, there can be a lot of advantages to waiting to file and delaying when you start receiving payments well past your retirement age, but thats not the case here.

Can I Still Receive Spousal Benefits If I Worked

Social Security Spousal Benefits Simplified

What happens if you have Social Security earnings of your own but you also qualify for a spousal benefit? You can actually apply for both at the same timesomething the SSA calls a “deemed filing.” You’ll then receive the higher of the two amounts.

Suppose you’re at full retirement age and qualify for a $1,800 monthly benefit based on your pre-retirement wages. If you also qualify for a $1,000 spousal benefit, you’d receive the $1,800 benefit amount since that’s higher.

Your own retirement benefits will continue to grow the longer you delay your claim, up to age 70. If you wait until 70 to start collecting Social Security income, you can accrue enough delayed retirement credits to increase your benefit up to 32% versus claiming at full retirement age. It used to be fairly common for retirees to take advantage of this featureclaiming spousal benefits while delaying their own retirement benefit so it continues to grow. They would then switch from the spousal benefit to their own retirement benefit after maxing out the latter.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 clamped down on this strategy, however. Those who turned 62 on or after January 2, 2016, and were eligible for both benefits were thereafter required to complete a deemed filing. While there’s still an incentive to hold off and let your delayed retirement credits grow, you can no longer stagger your application for each benefit.

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Spousal Benefits For Widows And Widowers

A widow or widower can receive up to 100% of a spouse’s benefit amount. That’s if the survivor has reached full retirement age at the time of the application.

The payment is reduced to somewhere between 71% and 99% of the deceased’s entitlement if the widowed person is at least 60 but under full retirement age.

Disabled people can apply as early as age 50. The agency has a streamlined application process to avoid delays in the first payment.

You may be eligible for benefits even if your spouse died long before reaching retirement age. Every employee racks up annual Social Security “credits” for working. If your spouse earned credits for at least 10 years, a spousal benefit has been earned.

It’s important to note that it pays to hold off until you reach your “full” retirement age to maximize the amount you will receive.

Also, if you are receiving spousal benefits and your spouse dies, you need to notify Social Security. Your spousal benefit of 50% of your partner’s benefit will convert to a survivor benefit of 100%.

And do it promptly. It’s not usually retroactive.

File And Suspend Has Been Totally Eliminated

You may also hear or read about another Social Security claiming strategy known as file and suspend. Unfortunately, it is no longer applicable, also due to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. Using this strategy, the higher-earning spouse could file for Social Security at full retirement age , but then suspend his or her claim and not take benefits until later, while racking up delayed retirement credits in the meantime.

Read Also: Retirement Benefits For Federal Employees

Read Also: Age 62 Social Security Benefits

How Long Can I File For Spousal Benefits After Divorce

If you have been divorced for at least two years, you can apply if the marriage lasted 10 or more years. Starting benefits early may lead to a reduction in payments. If you have a work history, youll receive either your benefit or the spousal benefit, whichever is greater. To be eligible, your working spouse will need to have already claimed …

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