Many people do not utilize Social Security benefits to their full potential. If you are currently married, a divorcee, or a widow, you might be missing out on the benefits you’re entitled to. Here’s what you need to know about maximizing your Social Security spousal benefits.
You are eligible for spousal benefits if you were married for at least one year or if you are divorced from a marriage that lasted 10 years or more. If you worked throughout your life, you will get either your own benefit or your spouse’s, whichever is higher. You can claim up to half of your spouse’s benefits, and your working spouse will have already had to begin claiming their own benefits. That said, the timing of when you apply for benefits also plays a role in how much you can expect to collect.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors to help you figure out if you’re eligible and how much you can expect to get from Social Security spousal benefits.
You are eligible for spousal benefits if you are at least 62, were married for at least one year, and your working spouse has already filed for their benefits.
If you have a work history and have contributed to Social Security, you are likely eligible for your own benefits, but you can apply for benefits through your spouse and ultimately receive whichever amount is higher. For example, if your personal benefit is $750 a month and your spouse’s benefit is $1000, you would receive $1000.
How Much Should You Expect?
If you don’t have your own benefits, you will receive 50 percent of your spouse’s benefits if you wait until full retirement age. Full benefits typically don’t begin until age 67, though you can claim a smaller amount beginning at age 62.
So, if you wait until age 67 and your spouse collects $3000 a month, you’ll collect $1500. If you don’t want to and begin collecting at age 62, you only get 30%, which in our example would be $900. As you can see, waiting the extra five years to collect would result in an additional $600 a month.
That said, there are certain conditions where you may be eligible to collect spousal benefits early and not face a reduction. If you’re caring for a spouse’s child under the age of 16 who also receives Social Security benefits, there is no reduction penalty.
If you’re collecting personal benefits, you can delay payments until age 70 and your benefit will increase over time. The same cannot be said of spousal benefits, which reach the maximum amount at age 67, the current full retirement age. There is no increase in benefits if you wait to claim spousal benefits past full retirement age.
What about divorce?
If you are divorced, you may still be eligible to receive spousal benefits if you were married for a minimum of 10 years and both you and your spouse are at last 62. You must also have been divorced for at least two years and remain unmarried. If you remarry, you are not eligible for spousal benefits under your ex-spouse, but you are eligible under your new spouse’s benefits.
In the event that your second marriage ends in divorce, you are entitled to whichever benefit is the highest, as long as all of the other requirements are met. If your second marriage didn’t last 10 years, you’re still eligible under the benefits of your first spouse.
Benefits for Widows
The death of a spouse can impact your spousal benefits, too, particularly in the amount you are eligible to collect. If both spouses are both collecting Social Security and your spouse passes away, you are entitled to the higher of the two benefits. If you are divorced and your former spouse passes away, you can claim survivor benefits if you were married for 10 years or more and you are 60 or older.
If you are a widow and you get remarried, your benefits may change. If you remarry before age 60, you are no longer eligible to collect survivor’s benefits, which entitles you to collect 100% of the benefit and not 50 percent like other spousal benefits. On the other hand, if you are older than 60 when you remarry, you are still entitled to survivor’s benefits.
One way to make the most of this? Collect survivor’s benefits while letting your benefit grow until age 70 to get the maximum amount.
The foregoing information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that it is accurate or complete, it is not a statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision, and it does not constitute a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Thomas Fleishel and not necessarily those of Raymond James.
The examples used are hypothetical.