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When I Claim My $3,000 Social Security, Will My Wife Automatically Get a Spousal Benefit?


When you file for Social Security, your spouse becomes eligible for payments known as spousal benefits. However, they won’t receive these payments automatically. Instead, they must file with the Social Security Administration, whether they’re receiving their own retirement benefits or not.

A financial advisor can help you plan for Social Security and build a comprehensive retirement income plan. Connect with a fiduciary advisor.

For example, imagine that a man will receive $3,000 at his full retirement age. His wife can collect up to $1,500 in spousal benefits under his earnings history, but she must file for them. Here’s a closer look at how spousal benefits work.

What Are Social Security Spousal Benefits?

Spousal benefits are a form of Social Security payments for the spouses of beneficiaries. If you’re married or formerly married, you can claim benefits that are worth up to 50% of your spouse’s full retirement benefit. For most people, this means the benefits they would receive at age 67. These payments are not deducted from your spouse’s payments, and your spouse cannot alter your right to receive them. 

To claim spousal benefits, the SSA requires the following:

  • The primary earning spouse must have filed for their own retirement benefits
  • The secondary spouse must be at least 62 OR have a qualifying child in their care

If both of these criteria are met, the secondary spouse can file for spousal benefits. There are two exceptions to these rules however:

  • If the spouses have been divorced for more than two years, the secondary spouse can claim spousal benefits regardless of the primary spouse’s retirement status
  • If the secondary spouse cares for a child who is under 16 years old or who receives disability benefits through the SSA. they can file for spousal benefits before age 62

You can also file for retirement benefits based on an ex-spouse’s benefits if you were married for at least 10 years and you have not remarried. This is not affected by the primary spouse’s marital status, and in some situations, you may claim benefits before the primary spouse has retired.

Whether it’s guidance on spousal benefits or advice on how and when to make withdrawals from retirement accounts, a financial advisor can help you plan for retirement.

How Do You Calculate Spousal Benefits?

A woman looks on as her husband files for spousal benefits from the Social Security Administration.

Spousal benefits are capped at are 50% of the higher-earning spouse’s “primary insurance amount” (PIA) – their benefit at full retirement age. For example, if you receive $3,000 per month in Social Security, your spouse can receive up to $1,500 per month in spousal benefits if they wait until their own full retirement age.

While spouses are eligible to claim spousal benefits as early as age 62, doing so will reduce their lifetime benefits by a certain percentage for every month before age 67. Claiming spousal benefits at age 62 can result in a benefit that’s worth just 32.5% of the higher-earning spouse’s primary insurance amount. That is, if you claim spousal benefits at age 62 you would receive $32.50 for each $100 of the primary spouse’s PIA.

Unfortunately, delaying spousal benefits beyond full retirement age does not have the opposite effect. Spousal benefits are not increased if you claim them after age 67.

The SSA runs this calculation automatically when you apply for benefits. If you are entitled to your own retirement benefits, as well as spousal benefits, the SSA will issue whichever payment is larger. If you have already begun to receive benefits based on your own earnings history, you can switch payments to spousal benefits once your spouse retires. This is typically done if your spousal benefits will exceed your own retirement benefits. 

And if you need help calculating Social Security benefits and deciding when to claim them, talk it over with a financial advisor.

What Benefits Will Your Wife Receive?

Once eligible for Social Security spousal benefits, a recipient must file for those benefits, regardless of whether they've begun receiving their own retirement benefits or not.

To understand how this works, let’s look at our hypothetical situation from above. Imagine that you expect to collect $3,000 per month from Social Security at full retirement age.

In all cases, your wife’s spousal benefits would be based on your $3,000 primary insurance amount, as well her age. For example, if you retire at 67, here’s how much her spousal benefits would be based on the age at which she chooses to claim them:

  • 62: $975 per month ($3,000 * 0.325)
  • 67: $1,500 per month ($3,000 * 0.5)
  • 70: $1,500 per month ($3,000 * 0.5)

As you can see, claiming spousal benefits at age 62 would leave her with just $975 per month, which is 32.5% of your primary insurance amount. Once she reaches her own full retirement age, she becomes eligible for her maximum spousal benefit of $1,500 per month. Before filing for Social Security, consider speaking with a financial planner to discuss how your benefits will impact your retirement income plan.

But what if you wife also has her own retirement benefits? How would spousal benefits impact the amount she ultimately collects?

For example, say that your wife is eligible for $1,200 in retirement benefits based on her own earnings history. Since her own retirement benefit is less than her spousal benefit, the SSA would pay out the latter. And if she were eligible for $1,600 based on her own work history, the SSA would simply pay out that amount.

Bottom Line

Spousal benefits are Social Security payments made based on the higher-earning spouse’s earnings record. A spouse can receive up to 50% of their spouse’s Social Security benefits at full retirement age, but these payments are not issued automatically. Like all benefits, you must file with the SSA to receive them. 

Tips For Maximizing Social Security

  • Social Security plays a pivotal role in many Americans’ plans for retirement. In fact, two people collecting the maximum benefit in 2024 can bring in a household income of almost $117,000. With that in mind, here are some strategies for maximizing Social Security for you and your spouse.
  • A financial advisor can help you strategize for Social Security and build a comprehensive retirement plan. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

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