4 Things You Might Not Know About Social Security Spousal Benefits

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Most taxpayers are aware of the retirement benefits of the Social Security system. However, perhaps one of the greatest benefits of the entire program, the spousal benefit, is not as well-known. The spousal benefit provides for lifelong retirement payouts to eligible spouses, even if they never worked a day in their entire lives. However, as with any governmental program, there are a number of rules and regulations that you’ll have to know in order to maximize your benefit. Here’s a look at some of the most important characteristics of the Social Security spousal benefit that you may not be familiar with. 

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Your Spousal Benefit May Be Larger Than Your Own Personal Benefit

If you only work a part-time job or have large gaps in your employment history, you may not think that you’ll be entitled to much from Social Security once you retire. However, if you’re married, you might end up receiving more than you could imagine. 

If you wait to file for a spousal benefit until full retirement age, which is 67 for those born in 1960 or later, your Social Security benefit will be the larger of your own qualifying benefit or 50% of your spouse’s benefit.

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For example, if your spouse is entitled to a $3,000 monthly payout from Social Security, you can claim a $1,500 monthly benefit once you reach full retirement age. Since the average Social Security benefit for most workers in mid-2021 was $1,555, it’s entirely possible that your spousal benefit will exceed the amount of your own personal benefit. 

If Your Spouse Claims Benefits Early, Your Payout Will Suffer

The amount a beneficiary receives from Social Security depends on both their work record and when they file. Although full retirement age is now 67 for most workers, you can file a claim to start benefits as early as age 62. However, your benefits will be permanently slashed by 30%. In other words, if your full retirement benefit is $2,000 per month at age 67, by filing at age 62, that monthly amount will drop to just $1,400. 

A spouse’s Social Security benefit is directly tied to the payout that the primary beneficiary receives. Thus, if your spouse files for benefits at age 62, your own spousal benefit will be permanently reduced as well. Rather than receiving 50% of your spouse’s full retirement age benefit of $2,000, or $1,000 per month, you would only receive $700, or 50% of your spouse’s reduced $1,400 payout. 

Spouses Won’t Earn a Larger Benefit by Waiting To File at Age 70 

Just as workers face a reduced Social Security retirement payout if they claim early — such as at age 62 — those who delay their payouts will see them increase. If you were born in 1943 or later, each year you wait to claim your benefits will translate to an 8% increase in benefits paid, up until age 70. That translates to a payout at age 70 of 132% of your full retirement age benefit. In other words, if you were slated to receive $2,000 per month at age 67, your age 70 monthly benefit would rise to $2,640.

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However, spouses aren’t entitled to share in this benefit, as their payout is capped at 50% of the primary beneficiary’s full retirement benefit. In other words, even if your spouse waited until age 70 to collect that $2,640 monthly payout, your maximum benefit would remain at 50% of $2,000, or $1,000 per month.

Even If You’re Divorced, You Might Be Entitled To Benefits

Even those who are aware that Social Security provides a spousal benefit may think that divorce terminates that option. In many cases, it does, but if you were married at least 10 years before you got divorced and you haven’t remarried, you’re still entitled to the same Social Security spousal benefit as before. In other words, at full retirement age, even if you’re divorced, you can claim a benefit worth 50% of your ex-spouse’s as long as you were married for at least 10 years and aren’t remarried. However, this benefit will be reduced if you claim before full retirement age, just as it is for any worker claiming a Social Security retirement benefit. 

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About the Author

After earning a B.A. in English with a Specialization in Business from UCLA, John Csiszar worked in the financial services industry as a registered representative for 18 years. Along the way, Csiszar earned both Certified Financial Planner and Registered Investment Adviser designations, in addition to being licensed as a life agent, while working for both a major Wall Street wirehouse and for his own investment advisory firm. During his time as an advisor, Csiszar managed over $100 million in client assets while providing individualized investment plans for hundreds of clients.
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