Social Security Spousal Benefits
You are entitled to spousal benefits if you have been married for at least one year or are divorced and had been married for at least ten years. In both situations you must be at least 62 years of age to apply.
If you have reached full retirement age, you may receive 50 percent of the amount of your spouse’s benefit. Your spouse must be Full Retirement Age and must have applied for Social Security benefits.
Your spouse may elect to suspend payments so that Delayed Retirement Credits continue to increase his or her benefit amount. However, as your spouse’s benefit increases, yours does not.
If you are FRA and eligible for spousal benefits, you may also apply for benefits on your own record and suspend payment. The benefit on your record will continue to increase until you reach age 70, when it would be at its maximum. You can then elect to receive the higher of the two for future payments.
Only one of you can collect spousal benefits.
If you have not reached Full Retirement Age and do not have enough credits on your own record to receive benefits, you can apply for spousal support. Your spouse must be Full Retirement Age and must have applied for Social Security benefits. Since you are applying early, your benefit will be reduced in a manner similar to that of an individual. It may be reduced up to 30 percent depending on your age when you apply. For example, if your spouse’s benefit is $2,000 per month, at Full Retirement Age your benefit would be $1,000. If you apply at age 62, your benefit will be about $700.
If you have not reached Full Retirement Age and do have enough credits on your own record to be eligible for benefits, Social Security will pay that amount first. If what you would receive as a spousal benefit is more than what you will receive on your own record, you will get a combination of the two benefits to equal the higher amount.
For example, if your spousal benefit is $1,000 per month and the amount you would receive on your own record is $600, you would be paid $600 on your own record and $400 in spousal benefits for a total of $1,000.
If the amount you would receive on your own record is higher than what you would receive in spousal benefits, you will not be eligible for spousal benefits.
If you are divorced and had been married to that person for at least ten years, you may be entitled to collect a spousal benefit on your previous husband or wife’s contribution. You must be unmarried, at least 62, and your former spouse must be eligible for benefits as well. In this case your former spouse does not have to apply for benefits for you to be eligible, and your award does not affect his or hers at all. Unlike married couples, both individuals of a divorced couple can collect spousal support on each other’s record.
Once you apply for this benefit, the amount of your payment does not change, even if your former partner’s award goes up, yours does not.
Excerpt from Retirement Basics: Help for Broke Baby Boomers—by Donna Davis