Spousal Benefits of Social Security

Finance | Prager Metis | May 07, 2015

Spousal Benefits of Social Security

There are many things we should know about Social Security.  While the following is written from the perspective of a wife earning less than her spouse, the information here is the same for husbands who earn less than their spouse and may want to claim a spousal benefit.

Nothing keeps you from getting your own Social Security Benefit.  If you worked for at least 10 years and earned a minimum of 40 work credits, you are vested in the Social Security System.  Once you reach age 62, you will be eligible for your own Social Security benefit whether you are married or not.

If you are married and both you and your husband have worked, you will each be paid your own Social Security benefit.  There is no marriage penalty or limit to benefits paid to a married couple.  A working woman is not limited to one-half of her husband’s Social Security.  (That rate applies to women who never worked outside the home.)

Most women are potentially due two benefits: your own retirement benefit and wife’s benefit on your husband’s record, but not both.  You are automatically entitled to receive whichever benefit provides you with a higher monthly amount.  A wife is due between one-third and one-half of her husband’s social security.  Most working women who reach retirement benefit age get their own Social Security because it is more than one-third to one-half of the husband’s rate.

In order to qualify for Social Security spousal benefits, you must be at least 62 years old and your husband must also be collecting his own benefits.  If your husband is of full retirement age and is not yet collecting benefits, he can apply for retirement benefits and then request to have the benefits suspended and receive delayed retirement credits until he is age 70.  Once he has applied for and suspended his benefits, you would then be able to apply for spousal benefits.  If your husband dies before you, you can apply for the higher widow’s rate.

Widows are due between 71 percent (at age 60) and 100 percent (at full retirement age) of what the husband was getting before he died.  The widow’s own retirement benefit is paid first, then supplemented with any extra benefits due as a widow, to take the widow’s social security up to the higher widow’s rate.

If you become disabled before your full retirement age, you might qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if you worked and paid Social Security taxes in five of the preceding ten years.  If a wife has been married for at least a year to a disabled worker who receives SSDI, the wife can get Social Security benefits if she is 62 years of age or older.  If the disabled worker is still living, the wife generally receives 50% of the disabled worker’s monthly SSDI amount.  If the disabled worker’s children are collecting SSDI benefits at the same time, the spouse’s benefit can be reduced.  The total of the wife’s benefit and the children’s benefit cannot be greater than 150% of the disabled works monthly SSDI benefit.  Eligibility for the spousal disability benefit will end if she becomes eligible to receive higher Social Security benefits on her own record.

Divorced women married at least 10 years (and divorced for 2 years) are eligible for Social Security on the ex-husband’s record if they are unmarried at the time they become eligible for Social Security.  Benefits paid to a divorced spouse do not reduce payments made to the ex or any payments due to the ex’s current spouse if he remarried.

Full retirement age is the age at which a person may first become eligible for full or unreduced retirement benefits.  If your husband takes Social Security before his full retirement age, his monthly benefits will be reduced.  Your spousal benefits, in turn, will be calculated based on this reduced amount, thereby reducing your monthly benefits.

Full retirement age had been 65 for many years.  However, beginning with people born in 1938 or later, that age gradually increases until it reaches 67 for people born after 1959.

Age To Receive Full Social Security Benefits (“Full Retirement Age” or “Normal Retirement Age”)


Year of Birth *                                              Full Retirement Age


1937 or earlier                                                   65


1938                                                                       65 and 2 months


1940                                                                       65 and 6 months


1941                                                                       65 and 8 months


1942                                                                       65 and 10 months


1943-1954                                                            66


1955                                                                       66 and 2 months


1956                                                                       66 and 4 months


1957                                                                       66 and 6 months


1958                                                                       66 and 8 months


1959                                                                       66 and 10 months


1960 and later                                                    67

*If you were born on January 1st of any year you should refer to the previous year.  (If you were born on the 1st of the month, your benefit (and your full retirement age) is figured as if your birthday was in the previous month).

If your full retirement age is 67 and you start receiving retirement benefits at age 62, your monthly benefit amount is reduced by about 30 percent.  The reduction for starting benefits at age

63 is about 25%

64 is about 20 %

65 is about 13.3 %

66 is about 6.7 %

If you start receiving spousal benefits at age 62, your monthly benefit amount is reduced to about 32.5% of the amount your spouse would receive if his or her benefits started at full retirement age.  The reduction for starting benefits as a spouse at age

63 is about 65%

64 is about 62.5%

65 is about 58.3%

66 is about 54.2%

67 is 50% (the maximum benefit amount)


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