Almost everyone knows they’ll receive social security in retirement. But many people don’t realize that their spouse may qualify for spousal social security benefits as well!
Social security is a big piece of the retirement puzzle. When should you claim? How do you claim? How will my benefits affect the overall outcome of my retirement? These are the big questions we help folks answer when planning for retirement.
We always start by reviewing the latest Social Security statement. The Social Security Administration automatically sends statements out to those over the age of 60. But if you want to know what your benefits look like before you reach 60, or you haven’t gotten a paper statement, you can register to view your information online here.
You must be collecting Social Security in order for your spouse (or other qualified person) to receive their spousal social security benefit. And some other requirements do apply. Typically, the spousal benefit is a reduced amount (like half) of your benefit. The Social Security administration estimates the spousal benefit to be between 150-180 percent of your benefit. But please don’t rely on rules of thumb, and check this out for yourself!
How does claiming spousal Social Security benefits work? For spouses to receive benefits, they must:
- Be at least 62-years-old or older or…
- Caring for a child 16-years-old or younger, or for a child receiving Social Security disability benefits. If you’re in this situation, Social Security benefits are not reduced.
- Your husband or wife must have also claimed Social Security benefits.
- You and your spouse must have been married for at least one year.
The spousal Social Security benefits provision was added to recognize and help out the many spouses who are stay-at-home parents and either never entered the work force or didn’t work for long enough to qualify for their own benefits.
If you and your spouse BOTH qualify for your own benefits, great! You both can collect your own individual benefits. And the best part is, if a spouse’s own individual benefit is less than their spousal benefit would be, they will receive an additional benefit to match whatever the higher total is. A comparison should be run before claiming to determine what the right strategy is to maximize your benefits.
It’s important to note that if your spouse dies, you should apply for survivor benefits and not spousal benefits. For people who are widowed, if your spouse’s benefits are higher than yours, you might be eligible to receive their full benefit amount instead of spousal benefits. However, if you remarry, you won’t be eligible to receive your late spouse’s Social Security benefits.
There are also certain conditions where you can receive spousal benefits even if you’re divorced. The following conditions must be met:
- You and your ex-spouse must have been married for at least 10 years.
- You must be divorced from your ex-spouse for at least two consecutive years.
- You must be currently unmarried.
- Your ex-spouse must be entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
- The benefits you would have received from your work record must be less than the spousal benefits.
Spouses enjoy a lot of flexibility thanks to spousal Social Security benefits. Unfortunately, the flexibility of the spousal benefits also creates confusion surrounding the best way to claim.
We never want anyone to miss out on potential sources of income. That’s why we often recommend folks wait until at least full retirement age (age 70 is best) if they can to claim their benefits. Spousal benefits are not affected by delaying, however. Those delayed retirement credits are not applied to the spousal benefit.
As is often the case in retirement planning, the answer of how to claim Social Security is, it depends. It depends on your specific situation. If you need help figuring out the best way FOR YOU to claim your benefits, get in touch with us! But at the very least, know that claiming spousal Social Security benefits is an option that should not go overlooked.