Deciding when to apply for Social Security benefits can be confusing. It’s a decision that can impact your retirement income for decades. Spousal benefits, especially, are easily misunderstood. Here are three questions to consider:
- What is a Social Security spousal benefit? As the term implies, it’s income provided under the Social Security program to spouses, current or widowed. (An ex-spouse may also qualify under certain circumstances.) If your spouse or ex-spouse paid into the program, you may be eligible for this benefit, even if you never worked under Social Security.
- How much will I receive? Your monthly benefit consists of two parts: the amount based on your own work history and the spousal benefit (if applicable). Let’s say you’re entitled to a monthly benefit of $800 and your higher-earning spouse is eligible for $2,000 a month at his or her full retirement age (FRA). Because half your spouse’s benefit ($1,000) exceeds your own benefit, you’re entitled to a spousal benefit for the difference. In this scenario, you could collect an additional $200 ($1,000 minus $800) each month.
- Can I claim a spousal benefit if my spouse isn’t currently drawing Social Security? No. However, if you’re filing based on an ex-spouse’s work record, you may be eligible, even if that person hasn’t filed for his or her own benefits.
The spousal benefit rules are complicated. You’ll want to consider your spouse’s timetable for claiming Social Security benefits, your own benefits, your spouse’s likely longevity (a death can affect widow’s benefits), previous marriage history (if you expect to claim benefits based on a divorced spouse’s work record), and numerous other factors.