Depending on your spouse’s work history and lifetime earnings, as reported to their Social Security number (SSN), they may be entitled to spousal Social Security benefits. The spouse of a primary beneficiary can potentially receive up to 50% of their husband or wife’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). However, as with regular retirement benefits, spousal benefits may be reduced if either individual decides to start drawing benefits early.
Is Your Spouse Eligible?
A spouse who wishes to claim spousal benefits must be at least 62 years old. The Social Security Administration (SSA) also requires that the primary beneficiary and their spouse be married for at least one year. Ex-spouses may still claim spousal benefits, but only if they are single, and they need to have been married to the primary beneficiary for a minimum of 10 years.
The spouse cannot claim both their own personal Social Security retirement benefits and spousal benefits. If they are entitled to their own benefits, they must be less than the amount they would receive from spousal benefits. The SSA will only allow them to claim the higher of the two payouts, and once the spouse is approved for one or the other, there is no going back. This means that a spouse cannot draw spousal benefits for several years, then switch to using their own retirement benefits.
Finally, a spouse cannot claim spousal benefits until the primary beneficiary begins using their own benefits. Even if the spouse has reached their full retirement age (FRA), they remain ineligible to receive spousal benefits until their husband or wife chooses to retire and start drawing their own retirement benefits. It is also important to remember that spousal benefits are not given automatically when the spouse becomes eligible or the primary beneficiary retires. An eligible spouse must contact the SSA to and put in a claim to start receiving their spousal benefits.
Penalties and Payouts
A qualifying spouse can start receiving spousal benefits any time after they turn 62 and the primary beneficiary begins using their own benefits. However, there is a penalty for drawing spousal benefits before reaching FRA. If a spouse chooses to start using their spousal benefits at the minimum age of 62, their benefits will be reduced by 8.33% each year for three years, then 5% the fourth year. The fifth-year they will have reached their FRA and will be entitled to the full amount of their spousal benefits.
Full spousal benefits are equal to 50% of the primary beneficiary’s PIA at his or her FRA. If the primary beneficiary decides to retire early and begin drawing reduced benefits at 62, their spouse will also see a reduction of 30% from their spousal benefits. This penalty is permanent and will continue for life.
Unlike retirement benefits, spousal benefits cannot be increased by waiting too long to start using them. Spousal benefits are capped at a maximum of 50% of the primary beneficiary’s benefits at FRA. Even if the primary beneficiary waits until 70 to begin drawing benefits, it will have no effect on their spouse’s benefits.