Social Security Spousal Benefits: What You Need To Know

social security spousal benefits

What’s one of the most generous benefits available to retirees? That’s easy. It’s Social Security spousal benefits! These benefits are some of the most important, too.

A recent Social Security report found that 2.3 million individuals received at least part of their benefit as a spouse of an entitled worker. Some of these spouses had benefits of their own, but were eligible to receive higher benefit because the spousal benefit amount was greater than their own benefit. Some of these individuals have never worked outside the home or paid Social Security tax. They have no benefit of their own and rely exclusively on the Social Security spousal benefit available under their spouse’s work record.

And it’s not just retirement income benefits. Eligible spouses also receive premium free Medicare benefits.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to qualify as well as what benefits you may receive as an eligible spouse.

What Does it Take to Qualify?

Unlike most rules related to Social Security, the rules for spousal benefit entitlement are pretty easy.

If you’ve been married to your current spouse for at least one year, you’re eligible for a spousal benefit under their work record. However, there are two big exceptions to this rule. More on that later.

If you’re divorced, and not currently married, you’re eligible for a spousal benefit if the marriage lasted for at least 10 years.

social security length of marriage rule


How Much is the Spousal Benefit?

The spousal benefit can be as much as 50% of the higher-earning spouse’s full retirement age benefit. For example, if your spouse has a full retirement age benefit amount of $2,000, your spousal benefit amount at your full retirement age would be $1,000.

It’s important to note that this benefit can never be more than 50% of the higher-earning spouse’s full retirement benefit, but it can be less! Why? It’s based on your filing age. Depending on how old you are when you file, the spousal benefit amount will range between 32.5% and 50% of the higher-earning spouse’s full retirement benefit.

In the chart below we’ll assume that your full retirement age is 67. We’ll further assume that your spouse’s full retirement age benefit is $2,000 per month.

social security spousal benefits chart

You probably noticed the steep penalty for filing early. You may have also noticed that the spousal benefit does not increase beyond your full retirement age. So if a spousal benefit is all that you are entitled to, there is usually not a good reason to delay filing beyond your personal full retirement age.

Another notable takeaway from the chart above is that although the reductions are represented by annual amounts, they actually decrease on a monthly basis. Not everyone cares about this, but if you want to get into the fine details of how this is calculated here’s what you need to know . . . .

The spousal benefit is reduced on a monthly basis as follows:

  • (-)0.69444% each month before full retirement age, up to 36 months
  • (-)0.41667% each month that exceeds 36 months

Important Rule

When planning your Social Security filing strategy, it’s important to note that you cannot file for a spousal benefit until the higher earning spouse files for their benefit. However, this does not apply if your are filing for a spousal benefit from an ex-spouse. If your ex-spouse has not applied for retirement benefits you can receive benefits on his or her record if you have been divorced for at least two years.

Medicare Coverage

If you are eligible for a Social Security spousal benefit, you are also entitled to premium free part A Medicare at age 65…but only if your spouse is at least 62 years old.

If you are more than 3 years older than your spouse, you may have to buy Medicare Part A until your spouse turns 62. That’s when your premium-free benefit would start. The Part A monthly premium is $413 in 2017.

Two Exceptions on 1 Year Marriage Requirement

Exception to spousal benefit waiting period


Normally, you must be married for at least 12 continuous months to meet the spousal benefit duration-of-marriage requirement. However, there are two exceptions.

Exception 1

If you marry someone that is the natural mother or father of your child, the one year requirement is waived. The language states “Be the natural mother or father of the worker’s biological son or daughter; i.e., this requirement is met if a live child was born to the NH and claimant although the child need not be alive”

Exception 2

The one year requirement is also waived if you were entitled (or potentially entitled!) to Social Security benefits on someone else’s work record in the month before you were married. An example of these benefits would be spousal benefits, survivor benefits or parent’s benefits.

For example, let’s assume you will be eligible for a spousal benefit from your ex-husband Joe. If you remarry, you wouldn’t have to wait the full 12 months to get a spousal benefit from your new spouse. Instead, you’d be immediately eligible.

Parting Thoughts

As a parting thought, it’s important that you get this benefit right the first time. If you file early, you generally don’t get a second chance.

While the rules for spousal benefit entitlement are pretty easy, you may still have a few questions regarding your particular situation. If that’s the case, feel free to contact me to schedule an appointment. It’s important to get Social Security spousal benefits right – the first time.