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How Do Social Security Spousal Benefits Work?

How Do Social Security Spousal Benefits Work?

May 23, 2022

Estimating and creating a strategy for your Social Security benefits is an important part of retirement planning. But if you’re married, you should also consider your spouse’s potential benefits to understand how those will work. And in many cases, retirement planning must account for spousal benefits in order to maximize income and protect you both.

First, the lower-earning spouse will face a choice with regard to Social Security benefits. They can claim their own benefit check, which is based on their earnings record. The other option is to claim spousal benefits, which will be based on the higher-earning spouse’s record and amounts to half of that check.

In some cases, the spousal benefit will amount to more than that person’s own benefits check, because their lifetime earnings were much lower. This often happens when one spouse spent many years without paying employment, such as when they were taking care of children or other family obligations.

When can you claim spousal benefits? In order to claim spousal benefits, the lower-earning spouse must have reached age 62. The higher-earning spouse must have claimed their own benefits already. Alternatively, the claim can be filed if the lower-earning spouse is under 62 but caring for a dependent child.

However, if spousal benefits are claimed before full retirement age, the amount of the check will be reduced.

Who can claim spousal benefits? Obviously, the spouse of a Social Security beneficiary can claim spousal benefits. But so can a divorced spouse, assuming the marriage lasted at least ten years and they are currently not married. Widows can also file a claim.

What if the higher-earning spouse passes away? The one receiving spousal benefits can then switch to the survivor’s benefit, which can be up to 100 percent of the higher-earning spouse’s total scheduled benefit.

Because the timing of a Social Security claim affects not just you, but also your spouse, it is important to consider a number of options before retiring. Schedule an appointment with us so that we can help you become familiar with Social Security rules, and we will discuss this strategy in more detail.