Married couples have Social Security claiming options that single people don’t.
Married couples have several Social Security claiming options that aren’t available to single people. Some married individuals qualify for spousal payments, and widows and widowers are eligible for survivor’s payments if the higher earning spouse passes away first. Even spouses who didn’t work for pay might qualify for Social Security based on the working spouse’s earning record. Here’s a look at what married couples need to know about Social Security:
How to earn credits. If you have worked and paid taxes into Social Security for at least 10 years and earned at least 40 credits, you will probably be eligible to receive benefits. You qualify for credits when you earn income and pay Social Security taxes. In 2017, you will receive one credit for each $1,300 of earnings. For a maximum of four credits per year you need to have at least $5,200 in earned income.
How to qualify for spousal benefits. Married individuals who don’t earn enough credits to qualify for Social Security might still be eligible for spousal payments. Spouses are entitled to benefits based on their own earnings record, or an amount equal to up to 50 percent of the higher earning spouse’s benefit. For example, if one spouse is entitled to start collecting $2,000 per month at his full retirement age, the other spouse would be entitled to receive $1,000 per month as a spousal payment at her full retirement age, unless her own benefit is higher. Spousal payments are reduced if you claim them early.
Working spouses might not be eligible for spousal payments. Each spouse is entitled to benefits based on his or her own earnings record or up to 50 percent of the other spouse’s benefit, if that amount is larger. However, it is important to note that you cannot receive both benefits at the same time. Social Security will pay your benefits first. Then, if your spousal benefit is higher than your personal benefit, your payment will be increased to the higher spousal benefit amount. For example, let’s say the wife’s benefit at full retirement age is $1,000 per month and the husband’s benefit at full retirement age is $1,850. The wife will receive $1,000 per month because that amount is higher than 50 percent of the husband’s benefit, which is worth $925.
Divorced individuals could qualify for spousal benefits. If you were married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years, you may be eligible to receive spousal benefits. Former spouses may also qualify for widow and widower benefits if the ex-spouse is deceased and the marriage lasted at least 10 years. You will get the higher of your benefit based on your own earning record or your ex-spouse’s widow or widower benefit, not both.
Survivors are also eligible for payments. Surviving spouses are entitled to a Social Security payment equal to the amount the deceased spouse received before he or she died, if that amount is larger than the retiree’s existing payment. When one spouse passes away, the widow or widower might begin to receive a larger Social Security payment if the higher earning spouse died first. However, households that previously received two Social Security checks will only receive one after a spouse passes away.