A married couple, or an unmarried couple who were previously married for at least 10 years, combine their working records, for the purposes of Social Security benefits, while they are both living. With careful planning, a couple can maximize their benefits in ways that are not available for single people.
Claim Deceased Spouse’s Benefits
If your spouse is deceased, you are eligible to receive his/her full retirement benefit when you reach the age of 60. If you are disabled, you only need to be 50 years old to collect. If you claim benefits before the full retirement age of the deceased, they can be decreased up to 28 ½ percent. However, you could choose to ask for the lower benefit on your deceased spouse’s working record when you reach 60, and change to your own full benefit when you reach your full retirement age.
Claim Ex-Spouse’s Benefits
If you are at least 62 years old and were previously married for at least 10 years to the same person, and unmarried now, you could be entitled to collect benefits from your ex-spouse’s earnings. The amount that you collect will not decrease the amount that your ex-spouse receives.
Claim % of Your Spouse’s Benefits
A spouse can collect 50% of the amount of his/her spouse’s benefit if that would be more than his/her own benefit amount. You must have reached your full retirement age to collect that amount. If you apply at the earliest age you can, which is currently 62, you will only receive 35% of your spouse’s benefit amount. Note that the higher earning spouse must apply for Social Security benefits before his/her spouse can receive spouse’s benefits.
If the higher earning spouse has reached full retirement age, he/she may apply for the benefits and then ask to have them postponed. In this way, the spouse who earns less can apply for the spousal benefit while his/her spouse keeps working until age 70 to earn more credits. Each year that you postpone claiming benefits after reaching your full retirement age adds approximately 7 and 8 percent to your retirement checks when you apply at age 70. Note that there is no advantage in delaying benefits past the age of 70.
If you and your spouse are both past your full retirement age, you can draw based on your spouse’s benefits and keep working and accumulating credits on your Social Security record. You can then claim benefits on your own work record when you reach the age of 70 and get a larger monthly check because you deferred your credits.
If you can increase your benefits by any of these methods, it is worth a phone call or a trip to your nearest Social Security office.