How You Manage Your Social Security Account Affects Spousal Benefits in 3 Ways

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Social Security is designed to support workers and their families by providing a guaranteed source of lifetime income for those who meet certain criteria. As such, they are a critical piece to your retirement planning puzzle. The decisions you make regarding your benefits can affect your spouse’s retirement benefits. The key to getting the maximum Social Security benefit is knowing your specific benefits as individuals and timing when to file as a couple.

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As a spouse, you can claim Social Security benefits based on your own earnings record or collect a spousal benefit in the amount of up to 50% of your spouse’s Social Security benefit, but not both. 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. It is important to claim benefits at your full retirement age, because that will maximize your benefits.

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Here are three things to keep in mind when considering Social Security benefits and how they may affect your spouse:

1. Income during your working years affects their spousal benefit.

It may sound simple, but the more you earn during your working years greatly impacts Social Security benefits, which are based on average monthly incomes over your 35 highest-earning years. Any additional income you can earn now will increase your Social Security checks later, which will increase your spouse’s benefits, as well.

2. Your income affects their cost-of-living adjustments.

A 5.9% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) was made in January 2022, affecting more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries. The bigger your checks, the more COLA makes a difference. This is good news for spouses, since a spousal benefit could be based on your Social Security benefits.

3. Spouses can’t claim a spousal benefit until you sign up.

Your spouse cannot claim spousal benefits until you sign up for Social Security benefits. If your spouse is eligible for their own benefits, they can claim them as early as 62 and wait to start spousal benefits when you file. This can be a smart move, as they’ll bring in some income from Social Security while you wait to maximize your benefits by reaching normal or full retirement age. If the spouse begins receiving benefits before full retirement age, your spouse will receive a reduced benefit. But if they aren’t eligible for their own benefits at all, you may want to claim early to open the door to your partner getting some Social Security income as soon as possible.

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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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