Many people know that they're eligible for Social Security benefits based on their earnings record; but did you know that there's also a provision for spouses regardless of whether they've contributed to the program? You might also be eligible to claim survivor benefits if you're widowed and, in some cases, you might qualify for spousal or survivor benefits even if you're divorced.
You may be surprised to learn that if you apply for Social Security benefits as a married individual, you automatically apply for spousal benefits. This was added to recognize the many spouses who were stay-at-home parents and either never entered the workforce or didn't enter the workforce for long enough to qualify for benefits of their own.1
How does claiming spousal benefits work? For spouses to receive benefits, they must satisfy any one of the following criteria:
- Be at least 62 years old or older
- Be taking care of a child who is 16 years old or younger or one receiving Social Security disability benefits
- Have a husband or wife who has also claimed Social Security benefits
Spousal benefits are capped at 50% of the benefits your spouse would have received at his/her full retirement age. Moreover, if your spouse claims benefits before full retirement age, your benefits will also be reduced.1
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 his/her full benefit amount instead of spousal benefits. However, if you remarry, before the age of 60, you won't be eligible to receive your late spouse's Social Security benefits. If you remarry after age 60, you can still receive survivor benefits based on your former spouse's record.2
There are also certain circumstances under which you can receive spousal or survivor benefits even if you're divorced. The following conditions must be met:
- You and your ex-spouse should have been married for at least 10 years.
- If you remarry after you reach the age of 60 (50 if you have a disability), the remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivor benefits
- Your ex-spouse must be entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
- The benefits you would have received from your years of working must be less than the spousal benefits.2
Spouses enjoy a lot of flexibility thanks to Social Security spousal benefits. As you near retirement, you'll want to explore your options on how best to take advantage of the program and maximize your benefits.
This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.