Whether or not you have worked during your lifetime and earned Social Security, you may qualify for benefits on a spouse's record. This is the case even if you are divorced or widowed.
As with regular Social Security benefits, you will qualify beginning at age 62 (you may qualify earlier for survivor benefits, which is explained below). Typically, the amount you receive is reduced the earlier you start collecting before full retirement age. So when you and your spouse apply matters. Here's how it works.If You Do Not Qualify for Benefits on Your Own
If you did not work enough in your life to qualify for Social Security benefits on your own, you could get one half of your spouse's full retirement benefit once you reach full retirement age, and you will qualify for your spouse's Medicare at age 65. This does not affect the amount your spouse receives.
You can begin collecting spousal benefits at age 62, if your spouse has applied for benefits at that point. The amount of your benefit is reduced based on the number of months until you will reach full retirement age. Say your full retirement age is 66. If you begin collecting spousal benefits:
- At age 62, you'd get 35% of your spouse's full benefit
- At age 63, you'd get 37.5% of your spouse's full benefit
- At age 64, you'd get 42% of your spouse's full benefit
- At age 65, you'd get 46% of your spouse's full benefit
- At age 66, you'd get 50% of your spouse's full benefit
If you worked and earned your own Social Security credits in your lifetime, you can get a combination of your own benefits and spousal benefits. If your spouse's benefits are higher than your own, your benefits will readjust to the higher amount.
Spouses can strategize to maximize the benefits you receive as a couple. Say you were to start receiving Social Security at age 62. You will not get the full amount of your own benefits, but you can increase the amount you receive if you qualify for spousal benefits.
Alternatively, you could wait. Once you reach full retirement age and are eligible to receive your own retirement benefits as well as a spousal benefit, you can request to have your own payments suspended until age 70 and earn delayed retirement credits (or your spouse can choose this option instead). This will increase the amount of the your benefits payment at age 70.If You Are Divorced
If you were married to the same spouse for 10 years or longer and that person worked enough to qualify for Social Security, you can receive benefits on the ex-spouse's record even if he or she is remarried.
To qualify, you must be unmarried. If you remarried, you do not qualify for benefits from the first spouse unless the subsequent marriage ends and you have been divorced for at least two years. If your spouse has died, and you remarry after you reach age 60, your survivor benefits are unaffected.If You Are a Widow or Widower
A widow or widower receives something called survivor benefits from Social Security. The rules are similar to other spousal benefits but survivor benefits can begin as early as age 60. Of course, as with other benefits, your benefits are reduced if you begin collecting before full retirement age.
If you are a divorced widow or widower, the rules are similar. However, if you remarry before age 60, you cannot receive survivor benefits while married. If you remarry after age 60, you can qualify to receive survivor benefits. These benefits are complex, so it's best to discuss them with a Social Security representative.No Need to Apply as a Spouse
When you, your spouse or your ex-spouse apply for benefits, the system will make note of your eligibility for benefits as a spouse. You do not need to make a separate request. Even if your spouse or ex-spouse has reached the eligible age for benefits but has not applied, you can start collecting benefits on his or her record. But if you have questions about whether you qualify as a spouse, you can visit your local Social Security office or call 1-800-772-1213.
Of course if you continue to work, or receive a pension from a previous employer, the amount you can receive will be limited. And there are limits to how much you can receive in total.Find out more about collecting Social Security benefits:
When Can I Apply for Social Security Retirement Benefits?
How to Apply for Social Security Retirement Benefits
Can I Get Social Security if I'm Working?
Taxes on Social Security Benefits
Making Sense of Medicare
Source: Social Security Administration, 2012
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