Social Security Benefits: 6 Things Married Couples Should Know

jacoblund / Getty Images/iStockphoto
jacoblund / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Social Security benefits are pretty straightforward for individuals — they’re essentially determined by how long you worked, how much you paid into the system and when you decide to claim benefits. But for married couples, it gets a little more complicated.

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Every couple is unique, so there’s no blanket advice that will work in every situation. Still, there are some basic guidelines you’ll want to follow. Here are six things every married couple should know about Social Security.


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Social Security Spousal Benefit Basics

Spousal benefits provide retirement income to married couples in situations where one spouse either never worked or earned much less throughout their career. Spouses can qualify for Social Security spousal benefits if they are at least 62 years old and both spouses have filed for Social Security.

Which Spouses Are Entitled to Social Security Benefits

You might think you’re only entitled to Social Security benefits if you made enough money or paid enough into the system. But for married couples, any spouse can claim Social Security, regardless of their earnings

“If a couple is married for 10 years or more and then decides to part ways, each spouse is entitled to a certain percentage of the Social Security retirement benefit of the other,” said Marina Shepelsky, a family attorney in New Jersey and New York.

The important point here is that even if a married couple separates, both partners might be able to claim Social Security. This is true even if one of the partners has no lifetime earnings.

The Amount of Spousal Benefits

A spousal benefit can be as much as half of the primary earner’s primary insurance amount (PIA). The PIA is the benefit you’re entitled to if you wait until full retirement age to claim your benefit. For example, it your benefit at FRA would be $2,000, your spouse could get as much as $1,000 based on your work record.

If you decide to opt for the spousal benefit but have not yet reached full retirement age yourself, that benefit will be reduced to as little as 32.5% of the worker’s PIA, according to the Social Security Administration Take the time to research how much your estimated benefits would be at full retirement age so you can make a comparison.

When You Can Claim Spousal Benefits

You can claim Social Security spousal benefits under these conditions: you are at least 62 years old, the benefit you’re entitled to is more than you would receive based on your own work record, and your spouse has filed for their own Social Security retirement benefits.

Claiming Survivor or Spousal Benefits Before Your Own Retirement Benefit

If the higher-earning spouse dies and the surviving spouse is eligible for survivor’s benefits, the surviving spouse might want to claim the survivor’s benefit early while delaying their own retirement benefit. The survivor’s benefit is 71.5% to 99% of the deceased worker’s benefit for a surviving spouse age 60 through full retirement age.

Rules Regarding Marital Separation

If you were married but have since separated, you might be eligible to start collecting Social Security on the record of your higher-earning former spouse. If your former spouse qualifies for benefits, you can begin to receive benefits using their record, provided that you are of retirement age, were married for at least 10 years and have been divorced for at least two consecutive years.

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This article originally appeared on Social Security Benefits: 6 Things Married Couples Should Know