Here’s How to Calculate Exactly How Much Spousal Social Security Benefit You Stand to Receive

For millions of older adults, Social Security is a safety net in retirement. Around 21% of adults age 50 and older have no other retirement income outside of their benefits, a 2023 survey from the Nationwide Retirement Institute found. So it’s wise to maximize your monthly checks.

Retirement benefits are the most common form of Social Security, but they’re not the only type of benefit you may qualify for. If you’re married or divorced, you could also be entitled to some form of spousal Social Security.

There are a few requirements you’ll need to meet to qualify, and the amount you receive will depend on several factors. Here’s your step-by-step guide to determining whether you’re eligible and how much you can expect to collect.

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Do you qualify for spousal Social Security benefits?

To qualify for spousal benefits, you must currently be married to someone who is entitled to either retirement or disability benefits. You also generally need to be at least 62 years old to begin claiming, unless you’re caring for a child who is under age 16 or disabled. In that case, you may qualify for spousal benefits at any age.

Divorce benefits have a few more requirements. For one, you can’t currently be married, and your previous marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years. If you’ve been divorced for less than two years, you’ll need to wait until your ex-spouse begins taking Social Security before you can file for divorce benefits. As with spousal benefits, you also must be at least 62 years old or caring for a qualifying child.

With both types of benefits, your payments will not affect your spouse’s or ex-spouse’s benefit in any way. If you’re divorced and your ex-spouse has remarried, taking divorce benefits also won’t affect their current spouse’s ability to claim spousal benefits.

Calculating your benefit amount

Even if you’ve never worked, you can still collect hundreds of dollars per month from Social Security. With both spousal and divorce benefits, the maximum you can collect is 50% of the amount your spouse or ex-spouse will receive at their full retirement age (FRA).

If you’ve worked enough to qualify for retirement benefits, that could affect your spousal or divorce benefit. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will pay out your retirement benefit first. Then, if your spousal or divorce benefit is higher, you’ll receive an additional amount so that your total payment equals the higher of the two amounts.

For example, say you qualify for $900 per month in retirement benefits, and your spouse is entitled to $2,000 per month at their FRA. Your maximum spousal benefit in this case, then, is $1,000 per month. The SSA will pay out your $900 first, then you’ll receive an extra $100 per month in spousal benefits so that your total payment is $1,000 per month.

If your retirement benefit is higher than your maximum spousal or divorce benefit, you won’t qualify for this type of Social Security at all. Say, for instance, you qualified for $1,100 per month in retirement benefits in the previous example. Because that’s higher than your max spousal benefit, you’d only receive your $1,100 per month retirement benefit.

One other factor affecting your monthly benefit

To receive the full spousal or divorce benefit you qualify for, you’ll need to wait until your own FRA to begin claiming. Your FRA will depend on your birth year, but it’s age 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later.

You can file before your FRA (as early as age 62), but your benefit will be permanently reduced depending on just how early you file. Also, unlike retirement benefits, delaying claiming past your FRA won’t increase your spousal or divorce benefit. There’s no financial incentive, then, for waiting beyond your FRA to file.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t claim early, as there are valid reasons to consider filing before your FRA. Just be sure that you’re aware that it will result in smaller payments each month.

Spousal or divorce benefits can go a long way in retirement, sometimes increasing your payments by hundreds of dollars per month. By taking full advantage of every type of benefit you qualify for, you can set yourself up for a more comfortable retirement.

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Here’s How to Calculate Exactly How Much Spousal Social Security Benefit You Stand to Receive was originally published by The Motley Fool