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How to Calculate Spousal Social Security Benefits


If you’re grappling with the best way to plan for your retirement, understanding how to maximize your Social Security spousal benefits is a significant piece of the puzzle. These benefits can substantially influence your retirement income, and becoming familiar with their ins and outs is crucial. Before diving too deep into the calculation methods and practical strategies to maximize your benefits, it’s important to understand how spousal benefits work and if you might qualify. You may also consider working with a financial advisor to develop personalized strategies tailored to your unique circumstance.

How Do Social Security Spousal Benefits Work?

Social Security spousal benefits are part of the retirement income that a lower-earning spouse can receive based on the higher-earning spouse’s work record. This provision allows the lower-earning spouse to receive up to 50% of the higher-earning spouse’s benefit at full retirement age, but not until the spouse has become eligible for benefits.

To bring this concept closer to home, consider a retired couple looking to maximize their potential benefits. The working spouse’s Social Security benefits significantly contribute to their combined retirement income, making it imperative that they both understand and effectively manage their spousal benefits to enhance their retirement financial security. 

To qualify for Social Security spousal benefits, one must meet specific criteria, including age and marital status. Firstly, one must be at least 62 years old and the spouse must be eligible for retirement benefits. The design of these parameters aims to provide a safety net for couples when they reach retirement age, especially if one partner has earned considerably less over their working years.

If you are caring for a child who is under 16 or disabled and receives benefits on the spouse’s record, the age requirement does not apply. Certain life events such as marriage, divorce or death can also influence eligibility. For example, in scenarios of divorce, you can still qualify for spousal benefits based on an ex-spouse’s work record, as long as you were married for at least 10 years and have not remarried.

How Spousal Benefits Are Calculated

Couple calculating their Social Security benefits

While the calculation can seem complex, speaking with a financial advisor to receive retirement benefits is recommended. There are a number of factors to consider that could impact the calculation of your spousal benefits, but keep in mind that they can not exceed 50% of the spouse’s received benefits. 

Key factors to consider include:

  • Full Retirement Age: Understanding the concept of full retirement age is crucial as it impacts the benefits’ calculation. Full retirement age varies based on the year of birth and it’s when you can receive full retirement benefits.
  • Claiming Benefits Early: You can start claiming benefits as early as age 62, but doing so before reaching your full retirement age will reduce the benefit amount. Claiming benefits before the full retirement age can reduce the benefit amount by up to 30%.
  • Claiming Benefits Late: Delaying claiming Social Security benefits past your full retirement age can meaningfully impact your benefits. To be precise, it’s possible that your benefits may increase yearly if you delay your retirement. 
  • How This Can Impact Other Retirement Benefits: Claiming spousal benefits can also impact other retirement benefits. For example, if you claim spousal benefits before reaching your full retirement age, you could potentially reduce your personal retirement benefits.
  • Spousal Benefits for Widows or Widowers: Widows or widowers can also claim spousal benefits. The requirements include being at least 60 or 50 if disabled and the marriage must have lasted at least nine months.

There is no set standard for how your benefits will be calculated outside of taking each of these factors into account. It’s important to understand your spouse’s benefits in order to accurately calculate on your own. You can use a Social Security calculator to estimate what your benefits might be.

How Spousal Benefits Work for Divorced Spouses

Divorced spouses can also claim benefits under certain conditions, assuming they have not remarried since the divorce and have not filed for benefits before. These benefits work the same as other spousal benefits where you could potentially receive up to 50% of the spouse’s benefits. To qualify you must meet these general rules:

  • The marriage must have lasted at least 10 years
  • Must have been divorced for at least two consecutive years
  • The individual claiming must be unmarried
  • The claimant must be aged 62 or older
  • The ex-spouse must be entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits

You’ll have to contact the Social Security office to see if you qualify but you shouldn’t do so until you’re ready to apply for benefits. 

Bottom Line

Couple calculating spousal benefits for Social Security in retirement

Between the calculations and strategic timing for claims, maximizing your spousal Social Security benefits may seem like a very difficult task. However, understanding these aspects and their impact can be a game changer for your retirement income, particularly for lower-earning spouses. 

Careful planning and strategic decision-making, in consultation with a financial advisor, may contribute to a more financially secure retirement. As you navigate these complexities, remember, taking a proactive approach now can benefit you in the future. So, carry on learning and researching about maximizing Social Security spousal benefits as it can be an essential part of your retirement planning.

Retirement Tips

  • Understanding Social Security benefits is just one important aspect of planning for your retirement. In order to effectively prepare for the retirement you want, you’ll need to create a budget and long-term plan. A financial advisor can help you prepare and manage your retirement assets. 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
  • You can use SmartAsset’s retirement calculator to help you determine how much you need to save in order to retire comfortably. 

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