Can I Get Spousal Social Security Benefits?

This illustration describes Social Security Benefits for Widows and Widowers including "Who is Eligible? You are Eligible if you were married for nine months or more to someone who has passed away," "How much can you get? (Depends on four things)," "Whether the deceased spouse had begun collecting benefits," "The deceased spouse's insurance amount (PIA)," "Whether the deceased spouse reached their FRA before their death," and "The age of the surviving spouse."

 @ The Balance 2018

Even if you never worked at a job where you could pay into Social Security, you may be able to collect benefits from your spouse's record. This is also true if you are divorced or widowed.

You must pay in for at least 10 years to qualify for Social Security benefits on your own. If that doesn't apply to you, spousal benefits kick in. You begin to qualify at age 62 if your spouse has applied for benefits when you reach that age. The longer you wait, the larger your monthly payments will be.

How to Collect Spousal Social Security Benefits

Drawing from your spouse's account does not affect how much your spouse receives. What's more, if you were married for at least 10 years and then divorced, the same rule applies. If you collect from your former spouse's Social Security, they will not know you are doing it. Records of your marital status and your Social Security numbers are all that's needed if the system doesn't have the data on file.

If you wait for your full retirement age, you can get one half of your spouse's full retirement benefit. The number is smaller for each year before that. You can collect through your spouse's Medicare at age 65.

Say your full retirement age is 66. If you start your retirement benefits at age 62, the monthly percentage of your spouse's Social Security that you receive is reduced until you reach full retirement age.

That means:

  • At age 62, you'd get 35% of your spouse's full benefit
  • At age 63, you'd get 37.5% of your spouse's full benefit
  • At age 64, you'd get 42% of your spouse's full benefit
  • At age 65, you'd get 46% of your spouse's full benefit
  • At age 66, you'd get 50% of your spouse's full benefit

Do You Qualify for Your Own Social Security Benefits?

If you worked and earned your own Social Security credits in your lifetime, you can combine your own and spousal benefits. If your spouse's benefits are higher than yours, your benefits will adjust to the higher amount.

Spouses can plan when to claim Social Security so they can get the most benefits as a couple.

If you wait until you reach full retirement age, you can suspend your own payments until age 70, and collect on your spouse's benefit. Your benefit continues to grow each year until age 70.

What If You Are Divorced?

If you were married to the same spouse for 10 years or longer and that person worked enough to qualify for Social Security, you can receive benefits on the ex-spouse's record. That's true even if they remarried.

If you remarry, you do not qualify for benefits from the first spouse—unless the new marriage ends and you have been divorced for at least 2 years. If your spouse dies and you remarry after age 60, you can still collect survivor benefits.

What If You Are Widowed?

A widower receives survivor benefits from Social Security. The rules are similar to other spousal benefits, but payments can begin as early as age 60. Again, the checks are smaller if you begin to collect before full retirement age.

If you are divorced and widowed, the rules are similar. If you marry again before age 60, you cannot receive survivor benefits unless you divorce again. If you marry again after age 60, you can receive survivor benefits. These benefits are complex. It's best to discuss them with a Social Security representative.

How to Apply

When you, your spouse, or your ex-spouse applies for benefits, the system should pick up your eligibility for benefits as a spouse. If your spouse or ex-spouse reaches full retirement age but has not applied, you can start to collect benefits on their record.

If you keep working or get a pension from a job, the amount you can receive is reduced. There are limits on how much you can collect in total.

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