Beyond retired worker benefits, Social Security comprehends various programs aimed at supporting families and survivors of workers. Among these, Social Security spousal benefits stand out. This piece delves into five crucial pieces of information that married couples should grasp about spousal benefits as they near their retirement years. We’ll also explore the potential for increased retirement income through these benefits.
Spousal benefits are formulated to offer extra retirement income for married couples in scenarios where one spouse had limited or no employment history. This benefit becomes accessible if a spouse is aged 62 or older and both partners have submitted applications for Social Security benefits.
Understanding Social Security Spousal Benefits
A spousal benefit can potentially reach up to half of the primary earner’s primary insurance amount (PIA), which essentially represents the benefit they’d be eligible for by waiting until their full retirement age to claim it. To put it simply, if your expected benefit upon reaching full retirement age amounts to $2,000, your spouse could potentially receive up to $1,000 based on your work history.
However, there are several key points to take into account:
- A spousal benefit will only be disbursed if it surpasses the benefit you would qualify for based on your own work record.
- The spousal benefit hinges on the higher earner’s benefit at their full retirement age; waiting until full retirement age is not always a requirement to begin receiving this benefit.
- If the spouse receiving the benefit hasn’t reached their full retirement age, the spousal benefit might be subject to reduction (further details are explained in the subsequent section).
- Both spouses must have applied for Social Security for a spousal benefit to be granted. This means you cannot claim a spousal benefit linked to someone else’s work record if they have not initiated their own Social Security benefits yet.
When Are You Eligible to Claim Spousal Benefits?
In essence, you can apply for a Social Security spousal benefit under the following circumstances:
- You are 62 years of age or older.
- The spousal benefit you’re entitled to surpasses what you would receive based on your individual work history.
- Your spouse has initiated their own Social Security retirement benefits.
It’s important to bear in mind that if you choose to claim your spousal benefit prior to reaching full retirement age, there will be a permanent reduction in its amount. While you can obtain up to 50% of your spouse’s retirement benefit when you reach full retirement age, this figure can dwindle to as little as 32.5% if you opt for an early claim.
Exploring Spousal Benefits After Divorce
In certain scenarios, divorced individuals have the opportunity to receive spousal benefits based on the work record of their former spouse. To qualify for such benefits, the recipient must meet the following criteria: be unmarried, aged 62 or above, and have been in a marriage that lasted for a duration of 10 years or more. Furthermore, if a divorce has been finalized for a minimum of two years, the timing of the primary earner’s benefit claim becomes irrelevant, as long as they meet the eligibility requirements.
In the event that you are currently receiving a benefit based on your spouse’s work history and they pass away, your benefit structure will transform into a Social Security survivors benefit. This program, administered by the Social Security Administration, is tailored to offer financial support to families who have lost a loved one prematurely.
When the situation involves the higher-earning spouse’s demise, the surviving spouse is granted the opportunity to effectively inherit their retirement benefit. If the surviving spouse has already reached their full retirement age, they will be eligible to receive the full 100% of the essential benefit amount previously received by the deceased worker. However, if the survivor hasn’t yet attained full retirement age, the benefit amount may be subject to reduction.
Certainly, this is not intended to serve as a comprehensive compilation of everything to understand about spousal benefits. For instance, there exist specific regulations that could lead to increased benefits for spouses who have not yet reached retirement age but are actively caring for minor children. Therefore, if your circumstances involve young children or if your family situation deviates from the norm for retired couples, delving deeper into the spousal benefits program could prove to be a prudent course of action.
Can same-sex couples receive spousal social security benefits?
Spousal Social Security benefits are available to same-sex couples. This became a reality following the landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, 2015. This ruling established the right for same-sex couples to marry across the entire United States. Consequently, the SSDA now acknowledges same-sex marriages in every state, granting these couples the same spousal, survivor, and death benefits as any heterosexual married couple.
The SSA’s policies were further expanded in late 2021 to encompass survivor benefits for LGBTQ+ individuals who were previously barred from marrying due to unconstitutional state laws before the Obergefell decision. This means that same-sex partners who were in relationships prior to Obergefell may be eligible for survivor benefits, provided they meet specific criteria. This includes demonstrating that they would have married at the time of their partner’s passing if state laws hadn’t obstructed them, or they would have been married for a minimum of nine months before the spouse’s death if state law hadn’t prevented them from marrying sooner.