Social Security Gift for Married Couples: The Spousal Benefit

One of the benefits of being married is that you can share in your spouse’s Social Security benefits. If you are close to retirement age, you should know that there are several benefits available to spouses, including divorced or surviving spouses.

Chances are, you already know that spousal benefits are available and are looking for answers to questions like:

  • My wife does not have enough credits to qualify for Social Security; Can you collect benefits based on my history?
  • My husband and I have been married for 35 years, but we will soon get divorced; What will happen to my spousal benefits when the divorce is final?
  • What happens to my widow’s benefits if I remarry?
  • I am collecting benefits for my ex-husband’s record, what happens if he dies?
  • How can we maximize the benefits for our family? Are there strategies we should be aware of?

Why is it important to plan for spouse benefits?

Since Social Security accounts for about 40% of the average retirement income of Americans, it is important to maximize your lifetime benefits not only for yourself, but also for your spouse.

The rules surrounding spousal benefits are very complicated. Making the wrong decision could mean a lower standard of living and could increase the chances that your money will survive.

Retirement benefits for spouses

Disclaimer: For simplicity, this article assumes that the husband earns the most and that the wife will receive spousal or survivor benefits based on her husband’s income. However, marital rules are gender neutral; If the wife earns the most, or if it makes sense for other reasons, the husband can certainly claim spousal benefits on his wife’s income.

Wives can collect retirement benefits based on their husband’s income history, even if they have never worked. However, there are many rules and requirements that must be adhered to, including:

  • You must be married for at least one year before you can collect benefits based on your spouse’s income history.
  • You must be at least 62 years old
  • Your spouse must have filed benefits on his own record (that does not necessarily mean he is collecting benefits)

If there are younger children involved, the rules are a bit different. Wives caring for a dependent child who receives Social Security can receive spousal benefits regardless of age. However, spousal benefits will end when the child turns 18 if the spouse is under 62 years of age.

Who is a spouse?

This may seem like a silly question, but in today’s world, where you have multiple lifetime marriages, common-law marriages, and same-sex marriages, it is a legitimate question.

Generally, “spouse” means the current spouse, but divorced and widowed spouses can also receive benefits based on the worker’s income history. Find out more about divorce and survivor benefits below.

Add in common-law marriages and same-sex marriages and the definition of spouse gets really confusing.

Common law marriages are recognized by Social Security if they are legally entered into in a state that recognizes common law marriages and you act as if you were married. Therefore, in some cases you can be a spouse for Social Security purposes even if you are not legally married.

On the other hand, same-sex marriages are not recognized by Social Security, so a couple in a same-sex marriage will not be considered a spouse, even if they live in a state that allows marriages between people of the same sex. same sex.

Benefits for Divorced Spouses

Many people are surprised to learn that you can collect spousal benefits on an ex-spouse’s earnings record. Divorced spouses can collect spousal benefits if the marriage lasted at least 10 years and if it has been at least 2 years since they got divorced. Similar to spousal benefits, you will receive the greater of your own benefit of 50 percent of your ex-spouse’s benefit.

The age requirement (you must be 62 years old to collect benefits from the divorced spouse) and the reduction for early withdrawal of benefits apply the same as for spousal benefits. However, one of the main differences between divorce benefits and current spouse spouse benefits is that the divorced spouse does not have to wait for their ex-husband to start collecting benefits before they can start collecting divorced spouse benefits. .

If you are the ex-husband, you may wonder how collecting your benefits affects your current wife and family. The answer is “not so”. Paying benefits to a former spouse has no effect on the maximum family benefits for your current wife and family.

If you have been married more than once and each marriage lasted more than 10 years, you may qualify for benefits on the record of any of your former spouses. As long as you are not married at the time you apply (and have been divorced for 2 years), you can apply for spousal benefits for any ex-spouse you were married to for at least 10 years.

Tip: If you are considering divorce and have been married for close to 10 years, consider delaying the divorce until after you have reached the 10-year mark to allow the lower-income spouse to qualify for spousal benefits. Benefits paid to a former spouse do not affect your family’s maximum benefits, so they help the wife and do not harm the husband or his new family if he remarries.

Survivor benefits

Lastly, whether you are the current wife or the ex-wife, if your husband passes away before you, you may qualify for survivor benefits. Generally, survivor benefits are 100% of your spouse’s benefit; however, survivor benefits will vary depending on the number of years worked, income, and whether the deceased worker was already retired (and at what age).

Survivor benefits can be taken starting at age 60, or even at age 50 if you are disabled. A widow can choose to receive survivor benefits at age 60 and then switch to her own benefits upon reaching full retirement age.

Widows will lose their survivor benefits if they remarry before age 60; however, once you have turned 60, you can continue to collect survivor benefits even if you remarry.

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