What You Should Know About the Spousal Social Security Benefit

January 29, 2019

The spousal Social Security benefit provides an excellent resource to seniors, who can apply it all sorts of expenses, such as the cost of assisted living. Eligibility depends on marital status, age, and date of birth. Specifically, the benefit works differently for those born on or before January 1st, 1954 than it does for those born after.

It’s important to understand the different elements of the spousal Social Security benefit. Equipped with this knowledge, seniors can carefully time their benefit claim in order to maximize the possible payout. One important thing to note upfront: choosing to take the spousal benefit has no impact on the amount that your spouse or former spouse is eligible to receive. While your benefits are connected, you’re not drawing from one fixed amount; each of you is making an individual claim to Social Security.

Marital Status

The spousal Social Security benefit works differently depending on marital status.

Married

If you and your spouse are currently married and your spouse is alive, you are eligible to claim the spousal social security benefit if:

  • Your spouse is eligible to receive their Social Security retirement benefit and has filed to do so
    • Check eligibility with the Social Security Administration’s Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool
    • Your spouse must apply for their benefit before you apply for the spousal benefit
  • You are 62-years-old or older
  • You and your spouse have been married for at least 10 years

Retirement benefits and spousal benefits are tied to full retirement age (FRA). This is the age at which a person can receive their full retirement benefits. In the past, this was 65 for everyone. However, life expectancy increases have upped FRA to 67 for people born after 1959.

For married couples, Social Security benefits can be maximized by having the highest-earning partner choose to delay their benefit collection until 70-years-old. Another important thing to note: If you apply for the spousal benefit before you reach your FRA, your benefit will be reduced. So to receive the maximum benefit possible, it pays to wait for the highest earning spouse to turn 70 and the other spouse to reach FRA.

Divorced

If you are divorced, you can still collect the spousal Social Security benefit if the following requirements are met:

  • You were married for 10 years or more
  • Neither spouse remarried, or did not remarry until after age 60
  • Your ex-spouse is 62-years-old or older
  • You are 62-years-old or older

Unlike married couples, you can begin collecting the spousal benefit even if your ex-spouse has not filed to collect their own retirement benefit.

Widow/Widower

If your spouse has passed away, you can begin collecting the spousal benefit at age 60. If you have a disability that began within seven years of your spouse’s death, you can begin claiming the spousal benefit as early as 50-years-old.

Birth Date

New Social Security laws went into effect on November 2nd, 2015 and included a significant change for folks born after January 1st, 1954.

If you were born on or before January 1st, 1954, you can delay claiming your own retirement benefit until age 70 while collecting your spousal benefit. This allows you to maximize your own benefit. At age 70, you can switch to your own benefit if it’s higher. However, if you were born after January 1st, 1954, you will not be able to delay collecting your own benefit (and thereby maximize it). Instead, when you apply for your benefit, you will be applying for all of the benefits you are eligible for. If you choose to collect your spousal benefit, you will be collecting your own benefit as well.

We’ve helped many couples navigate Social security here at Lexington Square as they make the move to one of our senior living communities here in Lombard, IL and Elmhurst, IL. We can help you do the same. Give us a call today.

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