Eligibility for Social Security Spousal Benefits

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social security eligibility
If you’re married, you may have questions about social security eligibility for spousal benefits. If your spouse doesn’t have a sufficient work and earnings history to earn primary Social Security retirement benefits, he or she may earn a spousal benefit of 50 percent of the beneficiary’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) at his or her Full Retirement Age (FRA).

SSA says that the spouse’s base benefit won’t be less than 50 percent of the primary Social Security beneficiary’s PIA, even if the worker claims early retirement benefit or delays claiming these benefits until age 70.

Social Security Eligibility

In order to claim spousal benefits, he or she must be 62 years or older. If Social Security benefits are claimed at age 62, SSA will reduce the benefits by 8.33 percent per year over the first three years of early retirement plus a five percent reduction for the fourth year.

If a spouse’s FRA is age 66 but he or she decides to claim Social Security retirement benefits at the earliest age of eligibility (age 62), he or she requests benefits four years early. In this scenario, the spouse loses 30 percent of his or her spousal benefits for life:

  • Although the full retirement benefit to a spouse is available at his or her FRA, Social Security reduces the payment when he or she requests early retirement.
  • In contrast to the primary Social Security beneficiary’s ability to earn credits for delaying retirement benefits, the spouse can’t earn more than the maximum spousal benefit at his or her FRA.

Even when a spouse is eligible for Social Security spousal benefits at age 62, it can’t be paid until the spouse is actually entitled to it. Entitlement in this scenario means the couple must be married at least a year (and still married) and the primary Social Security beneficiary must file for retirement benefits as well.

A divorced spouse may benefits on the former spouse’s Social Security benefits record but, in order to claim spousal benefits in that scenario, he or she must have been married for 10 years or more. In addition, the divorced spouse must be single. His or her former spouse must be at least 62 years old in order for the divorced spouse to claim benefits from Social Security. If the spouse turns 62 but the primary beneficiary isn’t 62 years old, the spouse isn’t eligible to claim spousal benefits. Review “Benefits for Your Divorced Spouse” at SSA.gov.

Let’s look at some examples relating to eligibility for Social Security spousal benefits.

Married Couple: Spousal Benefits for Homemaker

Marie is 66 years old. She’s never worked outside of the home. She raised children and served the family as a homemaker. She doesn’t have a Social Security earnings record. John, her husband, reaches age 66 (his FRA) in a couple of months. Estimates based on John’s Social Security earnings record say that he will receive about USD 2,000 a month:

  • In this scenario, Marie can’t request Social Security spousal benefits until her husband does.
  • When John reaches FRA and requests Social Security benefits, Marie will become entitled to approximately USD 1,000 a month. Even though Marie is already at FRA, she can’t claim her spousal benefit until John claims his.
  • If John decides to delay his Social Security benefits until age 70, Marie is still eligible to receive the full USD 1,000 spousal benefit each month. His accumulation of work credits after FRA won’t affect her. (She can’t earn more.)

A spouse must be both eligible and entitled to the Social Security spousal benefit. He or she is entitled to 50 percent of the primary worker’s PIA even when he or she decides to delay claiming Social Security retirement. It’s necessary for a spouse to claim Social Security spousal benefits because SSA doesn’t automatically send them when the spouse becomes age-eligible and entitled to them.

When a spouse has dual eligibility for spousal and personal Social Security retirement benefits, SSA evaluates the higher of these claims. SSA doesn’t add the total of two claims in that case. Today, submitting a claim for Social Security spousal benefits means that SSA considers the claim as an application for spousal or personal Social Security retirement benefits. For that reason, the spouse can’t request only spousal benefits and delay other eligible retirement benefits. This is an all-or-none application for Social Security benefits.