Here's How to Tell If You Qualify for Spousal Social Security Benefits

Social Security offers a vital financial safety net and a cornerstone in the foundation for a secure future for millions of Americans. What happens, though, if your employment history doesn’t support those plans?

If your spouse is eligible to receive retirement benefits, you may qualify for spousal benefits. You’ll need to check the rules and regulations from the Social Security Administration (SSA) to determine if you meet the requirements but can begin your research with the following summary of the major ways you can qualify for spousal benefits.

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Meeting the basic requirements

The good news is that you don’t necessarily need your own work history to receive spousal benefits. Ways to qualify include reaching age 62 or caring for a qualified disabled child under age 16. The child also must be eligible for benefits on your spouse’s Social Security record.

You also may be able to make a claim on an ex-spouse’s work record if you’re 62 or older, were married at least 10 years, divorced for at least two, and currently unmarried.

Some other caveats and what you can expect

There are a few additional factors to keep in mind. First, if you remarry after you become eligible for divorced spousal benefits, you’ll lose those benefits. (But you can reapply if you later become single again.) In any case, the amount of your spousal benefit will depend on your spouse’s earnings history and when you start collecting benefits.

Generally, you can receive up to 50% of your spouse’s full retirement benefit. However, if you start receiving benefits before your full retirement age, your benefit will be permanently reduced. The SSA offers an online tool for estimating your potential spousal benefit.

Develop your plan strategically

Knowing these eligibility requirements can help you and your spouse plan your retirement strategy. If you’re the lower earner in the marriage, you may want to delay taking your own retirement benefits until you reach your full retirement age to maximize your potential spousal benefit.

You can estimate your retirement benefit and investigate various claiming situations, including spousal benefits, using the SSA’s online benefits planner. The planner also is a good aid for understanding some of the complexities involved in making educated decisions about your retirement income.

Maximizing your income, together or not

Spousal benefits can be a significant source of income for retirees. By understanding the eligibility requirements and how different claiming strategies can affect your benefit amount, you and your spouse can work together to maximize your retirement income. The same goes for your ex-spouse.

For more detailed information on spousal benefits and claiming strategies, visit the Social Security Administration’s website. Consulting with a financial planning advisor who understands both Social Security and how your benefits will fit in with the eggs already in your nest is also a good idea.

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