Previous posts explained Social Security basics, retirement benefits, spousal benefits and steps you can take to maximize your Social Security monthly benefit entitlement under your own work record. One of the most common Social Security mistakes is not taking full advantage of benefits available to spouses and former spouses. This is to help you maximize spousal social security.
When it comes to collecting Social Security you can be eligible under more than one work record, e.g. your own and your spouse’s record (or your own and an ex-spouse’s). However, the SSA (Social Security Administration), will only pay you the highest amount you are entitled to under any one of these work records. So if you are entitled to $1,500/month under your own work record and $1,200/month as a spousal benefit, you will receive $1,500/month.
The spousal (or ex-spousal) benefit amount is 50% of what your spouse’s Social Security benefit would be at your spouse’s full retirement age (FRA) – which is gradually transitioning from age 65 to 67. So if your spouse or ex-spouse will be entitled to $2,000/month at their FRA, your spousal entitlement at your FRA will be $1,000/month.
Tips to Maximize Spousal Social Security Benefits
- If the length of your marriage is approaching 10 years, hold off getting divorced until it has lasted 10 years so that you will be eligible for former spouse Social Security benefits. Otherwise you won’t be eligible under your former spouse’s work record.
- If you are eligible for significant former spouse Social Security benefits, realize that remarrying will cancel this entitlement – unless your new marriage also ends in divorce and you then remain single.
- If you remarry after a divorce, it only takes a year of remarriage to become eligible for spousal benefits based on your new spouse’s work record.
- If you have had two or more marriages that ended in divorce and that each lasted 10 or more years, you will be entitled to spousal benefits based on the work record of the former spouse who had the best earnings work record.
- Encourage your spouse (or ex-spouse) to keep working if doing so will increase their Social Security retirement benefit amount.
- If you plan to draw Social Security spousal benefits as retirement income, try not to do so until your full retirement age (FRA). If you begin drawing before your FRA, the spousal benefit amount will be less than the normal percentage of 50%. For example if you start drawing 4 years early (say at about age 62), you will only receive 35% and your monthly spousal benefit amount will be permanently reduced.
- You can receive both spousal and your own Social Security benefits (although not at the same time). A good way to do this is to draw spousal benefit payments from your FRA until about age 70, and then switch to Social Security payments based on your own work record (assuming they are greater than the spousal benefit) at age 70. This strategy lets you maximize the monthly amount of your Social Security entitlement under your own work record by waiting as long as possible to tap into it. Note that if you are still married, only one of you can draw spousal benefits at a time.
- If your spouse (or former spouse to whom you were married at least 10 years) dies, you will probably be entitled to survivor benefits. I will explain this in a subsequent post.
- To make the best choices, many people will benefit from professional advice, especially when it comes to spousal benefit options. Life expectancy (of both spouses if you are still married) can be a major factor in determining what would be best for you.
Online calculators can also be helpful. A good, free Social Security planner is at www.aarp.org/work/social-security/social-security-benefits-calculator.html.