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What You Need to Know About Social Security Spouse Benefits

When most people think about Social Security, they naturally think of retirement benefits. However about 1/5 of all Social Security benefits are spousal or survivor benefits, so when you’re planning for retirement, it’s important to consider the fact that you or your spouse may collect spousal or survivor benefits at some point in their life.

In this article, we are going to discuss the basics of Social Security spousal benefits.

Basically, a married person can receive a spousal benefit equal to half of her husband’s basic benefit, also called the PIA (primary insurance amount).

Spousal benefits usually come into play when one spouse takes time away from work to raise a family, and therefore has little or no earnings.

Calculating the Spousal Benefit:

The spousal benefit is actually a combination of both spouses’ benefits. If a married person has enough credits to qualify for Social Security on her own, then her credit will be calculated first. If it’s less than her spouse’s benefit, she will receive her benefit plus an adjustment to equal half of her husband’s primary benefit.

When Should You Start the Spousal Benefit:

You can apply for the spousal benefit as early as age 62, as long as the working or higher earning spouse is eligible and has applied for benefits.

It does no good for the lower earning spouse to wait beyond her full retirement age to apply for spousal benefits because the spousal benefit will not earn credits beyond the full retirement age. Therefore, spouses applying for the spousal benefit should do so as soon as they reach full retirement age.

How Early Retirement Affects The Spouse Benefit:

Spouses who apply for the spousal benefit before she is full retirement age will receive a reduced benefit just like she would if she applied for her own Social Security benefit before full retirement age. This reduced benefit is permanent, even if she takes her spousal benefit at age 62 and switches to her own benefit at full retirement age.
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