Secrets Every Married Couple Needs to Know About Social Security Benefits

While navigating the maze of Social Security can be daunting, you should make sure you’re maximizing your benefit amount. One wrong move and your monthly income could suffer — along with retirement lifestyle. Married (and formerly married) people should never overlook the important component of Social Security spousal benefits.

Through spousal benefits, nearly 2.4 million spouses of retired workers collect more than they otherwise would. Is this option right for you? Here we’ve rounded up answers to frequently-asked questions about Social Security spousal benefits. Included is information for those who are divorced (page 4) and how Medicare fits in (page 5).

1. Who qualifies for spousal Social Security benefits?

Senior husband asking for a divorce.

Make sure you’re familiar with rules regarding spousal Social Security. | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

There are some rules governing spousal benefits based on the length of a marriage. Overall, it’s pretty simple. Here are the ways you may qualify for benefits through your spouse:

  • If you’ve been married to your current spouse for at least one year. There are two exceptions to the one-year marriage requirement. We’ll get to those on page 6.
  • If you’re divorced (and not currently remarried) but the marriage lasted at least 10 years.

Next: How much you can collect

2. How much can I collect on my spousal benefit?

American social Security cards

You may be able to get up to 50% of your spouse’s Social Security benefit. | marcusamelia/iStock/Getty Images

The amount of the spousal benefit can be up to 50% of the higher-earning spouse’s benefit at full retirement age.

For instance, if your spouse’s full retirement age benefit is $2,000 per month, once you hit full retirement age, your spousal benefit could be up $1,000 per month.

Next: Figuring out the dollar amount

3. How do I calculate my spousal benefit?

calculate bills

You’ll want to calculate your expected Social Security benefits so you know what to expect. | Wutwhanfoto/iStock/Getty Images

If both you and your spouse are eligible for Social Security benefits, know what both of your benefits are. If your spouse is set to receive $2,000 per month at full retirement age and you are set to receive only $800, collecting on theirs (rather than yours) will give you a higher monthly payment.

Things get more complicated if you file for benefits before your full retirement age. (Your full retirement age depends on when you were born.) If you start collecting Social Security before that designated age, you’ll get only a reduced amount. A Social Security benefits calculator can come in handy when estimating benefits.

Next: How it works if you’re divorced

4. What if I’m divorced?

Wedding rings on top of stack of money.

You can still get spousal Social Security benefits if you’re divorced. | Solovyova/iStock/Getty Images

As we already touched on, if you’re divorced but were married at least 10 years (and aren’t currently remarried), you may be eligible to collect half of your former spouse’s benefit amount. If your ex-spouse hasn’t yet applied for retirement benefits, you can still receive benefits on his or her record as long as you’ve been divorced for at least two years.

Next: How it works with Medicare

5. What about Medicare?

Medicare protest

Social Security and Medicare go hand-in-hand. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you’re eligible to collect a Social Security spousal benefit, you’re also eligible for premium free part A Medicare when you’re 65. But there’s one requirement for this: Your spouse needs to be at least 62 years of age. In other words, if you’re more than three years older than your spouse, you’ll likely need to buy Medicare Part A until your spouse turns 62. In 2018, the Part A monthly premium is $422.

Next: Marriage requirement rules

6. How does the 1-year marriage requirement work?

Normally, you must be married at least 12 months to be eligible to collect your spouse’s benefits. | JANIFEST/iStock/Getty Images

While normally you must be married 12 months or more to be eligible to collect your spouse’s benefit, there are two exceptions to this rule:

  • If you marry a person who is the biological mother or father of your child, the one-year requirement is waived.
  • If you were already entitled to Social Security benefits on someone else’s work record during the month before you were married, the one-year requirement doesn’t apply. Examples of this would be someone collecting spousal, survivor, or parent’s benefits the month before they tied the knot.

Next: How it applies to widowed survivors

7. What about survivor’s benefits?

Social Security Benefits Application Form with pen and glasses

Widows and widowers can collect survivor’s benefits. | photojournalis/iStock/Getty Images

If your spouse passed away and they qualified for Social Security benefits (by working 10 years), you can receive full benefits at full retirement age for survivors. Or, you can receive reduced benefits as early as age 60.

If you wish to apply for survivor’s benefits, note that you cannot do so online. Rather, you should make an appointment with the Social Security Administration by calling (800) 772-1213.

Next: Why you should create a Social Security account online

8. How do I find out our Social Security amounts?

filing for social security

Check your Social Security account online. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

This is an excellent question, and an important first step in determining whether you should apply for your spousal benefit or for your own. The easiest way may be to create an account on the Social Security Administration website. From there, you can check your benefit information and earnings record. Or, you can call the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213.

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