Understanding Social Security Spouse's Benefits
Anna Scott, MBA, CFP®
January 31, 2012
Good morning Everyone.
You are probably well aware of when your own Social Security retirement benefits are scheduled to begin, but are you aware that your spouse may also be entitled to benefits based on your Social Security record? It's true--the spouse and even a divorced spouse of a retired or disabled worker is entitled to spouse's benefits on a worker's Social Security record if certain conditions are met. In the next few paragraphs I will go through these qualifying conditions as well other details on this topic, including how to calculate the spouse's benefit.
In order for an individual to be entitled to this spouse's benefit on a worker's Social Security record, there are certain conditions that must be met. First off, the worker whose record the benefits are based upon must already be entitled to receive retirement or disability benefits, and their spouse has to file an application for receipt of spouse's benefits. In addition, the spouse cannot be entitled to a retirement or disability benefit based on their own record that is equal or larger to the benefit based on the worker's record. In other words, if your Social Security record qualifies you to a retirement benefit of $1,500 per month, there is no reason for you to take a spouse's benefit based on your spouse's record if it would only get you $800 let's say. Lastly, the spouse of the worker must be age 62 or over, or have in care a child that is either under the age of 16 or disabled in order to qualify for the spouse's benefit.
You may be wondering how the amount of the spouse's benefit is calculated-- let's take a look. If the spouse of a retired or disabled worker is caring for the worker's child under age 16 or disabled, the monthly benefit equals half of the worker's primary insurance amount regardless of age. If the spouse is not caring for a child, monthly benefits starting at normal retirement age equal half of the worker's benefit. Keep in mind however that if the spouse chooses to start receiving benefits at or after his age 62, but before normal retirement age, the benefit is reduced even further. It is important to realize that in this case the spouse would continue to receive this reduced benefit rate even upon reaching their normal retirement age.
The same qualifying rules apply to a divorced spouse of a retired or disabled worker. In addition to the conditions outlined above, the divorced spouse must not be remarried to receive the spouse's benefit and the spouse has to have been married to the worker for at least 10 years before the date the divorce became final. In terms of the amount of a divorced spouse's benefit, as a general rule, it will equal half of their former spouse's benefit and, like before, it will be reduced if he or she elects to start receiving those benefits before normal retirement age.
Just like with a retired worker's benefits, a spouse can lose some or all of their monthly benefits if the worker is under the normal retirement age for the entire year and their earnings exceed $14,160. Let me stress again that in no case will a worker or spouse lose benefits for earnings earned after reaching normal retirement age.
As you can see, an important point in overall Social Security planning is having the knowledge to know how to explore your different options--you may be qualified for a benefit you weren't aware of or even a larger amount than you think!
If I can answer any questions you might have please do not hesitate to contact me. You can also contact the Social Security Administration directly or visit their website www.ssa.gov with any specific questions as well.
1. Stenken, Joseph F. 2011 Social Security & Medicare Facts: Social Security Coverage and Benefits, Medicare, Railroad Retirement, Benefits for Federal Civilian Employees, Benefits for Military Personnel and Veterans. Erlanger, KY: National Underwriter, 2011. Print.
2. The United States Social Security Administration. The United States Social Security Administration. Web. <http://www.ssa.gov>.
Anna Scott, MBA, CFP® is a Financial Planner at Kays Financial Advisory Corporation. She can be reached at (770) 951-9001 or at email@example.com.
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