Social Security Trick: Spousal Adjustment Can Net Lower-Earner Up to 50% of Partner’s Benefit

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According to the Social Security Administration, when a worker files for retirement benefits, their spouse may be eligible for a benefit based on the worker’s earnings. This spousal benefit also sometimes has an adjustment that allows a lower-earning spouse to receive up to 50% of their higher-earning spouse’s retirement benefit from Social Security.

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This provision for extra money is available particularly for married couples, as the SSA recognizes that often one spouse may have had to give up higher earning periods to raise children and/or for health concerns either for themselves or other family members.

Sometimes, one spouse becomes the primary earner as the other concentrates on other familial responsibilities. This leaves a smaller amount of Social Security benefit for one spouse versus the other — which is precisely what the spousal benefit adjustment accounts for.

Social Security rules allow for a means to make up for the foregone benefits of a lower earning spouse by adjusting the lower earning spouse’s benefit using the higher earning spouse’s income as a benchmark. The maximum amount a lower earning spouse can receive is  50% of the benefit of the higher earning spouse.

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For example, if you are receiving $600 a month in benefits, but your spouse is receiving $2,000, you may be eligible to receive up to $1,000 with the spousal adjustment.

It is important to note, however, that this does not mean you will get an additional $1,000 on top of your already existing $600 benefit. This simply means that should a spousal adjustment be applied to your already existing benefit, you could then receive up to $1,000 instead of the original $600 — you will not get paid both amounts.

The adjustment becomes more complicated as spouses choose when to file for benefits. If one spouse decides to take benefits early and another chooses to take benefits at full retirement age, this can affect the benefit amounts for each, including a reduced, or increased, spousal benefit adjustment based on the who-took-what-when model of Social Security.

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Benefit calculations can get tricky depending on how many years you worked, when you take retirement and how much you made. The best thing to do is create an account at my SocialSecurity and enter your information to use the SS calculator to best determine your benefit amount.

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Last updated: October 20, 2021

About the Author

Georgina Tzanetos is a former financial advisor who studied post-industrial capitalist structures at New York University. She has eight years of experience with concentrations in asset management, portfolio management, private client banking, and investment research. Georgina has written for Investopedia and WallStreetMojo. 

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