Social Security: Understanding spouses’ benefits

Marriage is a cultural institution that exists all over the world. Having a partner means sharing many things including a home and other property. Understanding how your future retirement might affect your spouse is important.

When you’re planning for your fun and vibrant golden years, here are a few things to remember.

If a spouse accepts reduced retirement benefits before starting spouse’s benefits, the spouse will not receive the full 50 percent of the worker’s benefit amount.

Full spouse’s benefit could be up to 50 percent of your spouse’s full retirement age amount if you are full retirement age when you take it. If you qualify for your own retirement benefit and a spouse’s benefit, we always pay your own benefit first. (For example, you are eligible for $400 from your own retirement and $150 as a spouse for a total of $550.)

The reduction rates for retirement and spouses benefits are different.

If your spouse is younger, you cannot receive benefits unless he or she is receiving benefits (except for divorced spouses).

If you took your reduced retirement first, when you add spouse’s benefits later, your own retirement portion remains reduced which causes the total retirement and spouses benefit together to total less than 50 percent of the worker’s amount.

On the other hand, if your spouse’s retirement benefit is higher than your retirement benefit, and he or she chooses to take reduced benefits and dies first, your survivor benefit will be reduced, but may be higher than what your spouse received.

If the deceased worker started receiving reduced retirement benefits before their full retirement age, a special rule called the retirement insurance benefit limit may apply to the surviving spouse. The retirement insurance benefit limit is the maximum survivor benefit you may receive.

Generally, the limit is the higher of:

• The reduced monthly retirement benefit to which the deceased spouse would have been entitled if they had lived, or

• 82.5 percent of the unreduced deceased spouse’s monthly benefit if they had started receiving benefits at their full retirement age (rather than choosing to receive a reduced retirement benefit early).

Spouse and Survivor benefits are complex programs. If you have questions, please review out FAQ section at faq.ssa.gov/en-US.

When it comes to information, we have over 80 years of experience. Access a wealth of useful information as well as our benefits planners at www.ssa.gov/planners.

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