Social Security retirement benefits are based on payroll tax contributions while working, but you don’t necessarily need to be the one working to claim them. A worker’s spouse might also be eligible for a benefit based on the worker’s earnings.
To get spousal benefits, you usually must be at least age 62 years old or have a qualifying child in your care, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). The spousal benefit can be as much as half of the worker’s primary insurance amount, depending on the spouse’s age at retirement. If the spouse begins receiving benefits before full retirement age, the spousal benefit is reduced — unless the spouse is caring for a qualifying child.
If you’ve been divorced, you might qualify for divorced spousal benefits, which the SSA said applies to “individuals receiving all or part of their Social Security retirement or disability benefits from their ex-spouses’ earnings records.” You are eligible for divorced spousal benefits if your marriage lasted for at least 10 years.
If you’ve married multiple times, you can also qualify for benefits on more than one spouse’s earning record. However, you can’t collect on all of them at the same time — just one. According to AARP, you’ll need to inform the SSA that you were married more than once and “they will be able to tell you which record provides the higher payment and set your benefit accordingly.”
This will depend on several factors, including each spouse’s earnings history and the age at which you claim a survivor benefit (if widowed) or divorced-spouse benefit.
As a widow or widower, you can collect survivor benefits beginning at age 60 (or 50 if you are disabled), as long as the marriage lasted at least nine months. In most cases the amount is based on the deceased’s Social Security benefits at the time of death.
The amount you collect on your late spouse’s payment depends on your age when you claim survivor benefits. Here are some of the percentages based on when you claim benefits if you were born between 1945 and 1956, according to the SSA:
- If you start receiving survivors benefits at age 60, you will get 71.5% of the monthly benefit.
- At age 62, you will get 81% of the monthly benefit.
- At 65, you will get 95.3% of the monthly benefit.
- At full retirement age, you get 100% of the benefit.
The minimum age of eligibility to collect benefits on the record of a living former spouse is 62.
One thing to keep in mind: If you marry a third time, you might not qualify for either type of benefit, according to the AARP. With rare exceptions, you can’t collect divorced-spouse benefits if your ex is still alive and you remarry. For survivor benefits, you lose eligibility if you remarry before age 60 (50 if you are disabled).
Also, if your own retirement benefit is bigger than what you’d get on any former spouse’s record, they you’ll get the bigger benefit. The SSA doesn’t add multiple benefits together. Instead, it only pays the highest benefit each month.
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