Social Security: Can You Receive Payments If You Never Paid In? How Spousal Benefits Work

Middle aged senior old couple holding documents reading paper bills paying bank loan online, calculating pension fees, payments, taxes, planning family retirement money finances using laptop at home.
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Social Security is designed to support workers and their families by providing a guaranteed source of retirement income for those who meet certain criteria. Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits are a critical piece of most Americans’ retirement plans. Here’s what you should know about those benefits.

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Social Security is an earned benefit and has strict qualifying rules. To receive Social Security payments in retirement, a recipient must have worked and paid into the SSA system for at least 10 years. Depending on your age, if you have paid at least some Social Security taxes, and if you qualify for a disability benefit, you can potentially receive SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits — but this is an exception to the broader Social Security benefit rules.

The only people who can legally collect benefits without having paid into Social Security are family members of workers who have done so. Benefits are based on the qualifying worker’s earnings record and the most common form of such arrangements come as spousal benefits. Other Social Security benefits may be afforded to survivors (typically widows or widowers) or children.

To qualify for your spouse’s benefits, you must be at least 62 years of age — or any age and caring for a child entitled to receive benefits on your spouse’s record (and who is younger than age 16 or disabled).

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As a spouse, you can collect a benefit in the amount of up to 50% of your spouse’s Social Security benefit. The allowed Social Security retirement benefit for a spouse starts at 32.5% at age 62 and gradually increases to 50% of the amount that their spouse is eligible to receive at normal or full retirement age, which is 66 or 67 depending on their birth year. You will also receive the full amount if you are caring for a child entitled to receive benefits on your spouse’s record who is younger than age 16 or disabled.

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However, remember that a spouse cannot claim spousal benefits until the person who has paid into Social Security (and is deemed eligible) begins receiving payments. So, if you are already 62 but your spouse has not begun to collect SSA payments — you will have to wait until they begin doing so.

It is also important to note that federal, state or local government pensions may affect Social Security payments for spouses and result in a reduced benefit if you have not paid Social Security taxes, personally, for the required time period.

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About the Author

David Nadelle is a freelance editor and writer based in Ottawa, Canada. After working in the energy industry for 18 years, he decided to change careers in 2016 and concentrate full-time on all aspects of writing. He recently completed a technical communication diploma and holds previous university degrees in journalism, sociology and criminology. David has covered a wide variety of financial and lifestyle topics for numerous publications and has experience copywriting for the retail industry.
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