Welcome to our “Social Security Q&A” series. You ask a question about Social Security, and a guest expert answers it.
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Today’s question comes from Jim:
“My wife, Janet, only worked about five years in the last 40 years due to being a homemaker. As a result, she has no Social Security benefits on her own.
Is she entitled to any of my Social Security retirement benefits? I have worked 40 consecutive years and have benefits that should pay approximately $2,400 per month at my full retirement age. I was born in 1956; Janet was born in 1960. I have not yet claimed my retirement benefits.”
Confusion about spousal benefits
Jim, I have encountered many people who are confused about the spousal benefit issue. So, you are definitely not alone here.
Your wife should indeed be eligible for spousal benefits on your Social Security record. The main eligibility requirements are the following:
- You two have been married for at least a year.
- Your wife is at least 62.
- You have started your own retirement benefits.
The maximum spousal benefit is one-half of your full retirement age (FRA) benefit. Thus, Janet could get as much as $1,200 a month if she waits until her FRA of 67 years. If she claims earlier, she gets hit by an early claiming penalty.
For example, if she claims at 62, her spousal benefit will be reduced by 35%, or to $780 a month. If she claims at 64, she will receive $900 a month.
As you can see, the penalty declines as her claiming age moves from 62 to her FRA of 67. Nothing is gained by waiting to claim spousal benefits beyond her FRA. If you are interested in more information about the early claiming penalty for spousal benefits, check out this Social Security Administration calculator.
Note that Janet’s spousal benefits are not affected by when you claim your retirement benefits. You can claim at 62 or 70 or anywhere in between, and her benefit possibilities are unchanged. As noted above, the key is that you need to claim your own benefits in order for her to claim spousal benefits.
Perhaps the main reason that many are uninformed about spousal benefits is the failure of the Social Security statement to say anything about spousal benefits. Each individual’s statement provides information about retirement benefits, survivors benefits, disability benefits and maximum family benefits. Spousal benefits are nowhere to be seen.
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I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years.
Disclaimer: We strive to provide accurate information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that we are not offering legal, accounting, investment or other professional advice or services, and that the SSA alone makes all final determinations on your eligibility for benefits and the benefit amounts. Our advice on claiming strategies does not comprise a comprehensive financial plan. You should consult with your financial adviser regarding your individual situation.
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