Social Security offers retirement and disability benefits for workers who have paid in to the system through payroll taxes. A non-working spouse also may qualify for benefits based on the worker's record. Spouses must meet eligibility guidelines, and complete the application process over the phone or online.
In order to draw spouse benefits, you must be at least 62 years of age and legally married to the worker on whose record of earning you intend to draw benefits. Spouse benefits also are available if a spouse is caring for a child under 16, or a disabled child of any age. If you also have a work record that qualifies you for benefits, Social Security will pay those instead, unless the amount you can draw as a spouse is higher.
The base spouse benefit is 50 percent of the benefit to which the primary insured is entitled. If a husband is entitled to receive $1,600 a month, for example, Social Security will pay his eligible spouse $800. The spouse benefit is reduced if you take it before your own full retirement age, which varies from 65 to 67 depending on the year of your birth. In addition, a divorced spouse may qualify for benefits on her ex's record as long as the marriage lasted at least 10 years.
If you're divorced, eligibility for benefits on the record of a prior spouse ends if you remarry, unless the second marriage ends by divorce, annulment or death. If you are a non-resident alien, eligibility for spouse benefits depends on a myriad of tax and social welfare treaties the United States has with foreign countries. If you were or are in a same-sex relationship, Social Security will pay spouse benefits only if you live in a state that legally recognizes same-sex marriage. The best way to confirm your eligibility is to contact Social Security directly to inquire.
If you qualify as a spouse seeking Social Security benefits, you can apply online through the Social Security website, or contact the agency by phone at 800-772-1213. If a Social Security office is near, you may file an application in person, but it's advisable to use the toll-free number to set an appointment. You'll need to provide the Social Security number for the applicant and spouse, recent employment information, self-employment information if any, and bank account details for the direct deposit of benefits, which the agency now requires. Social Security provides a handy online checklist for applicants.
Disability and SSI Benefits
If you are disabled and unable to work, Social Security also provides disability benefits. The amount is calculated the same way as a retirement benefit, taking into account your lifetime earnings record and your payments into the Social Security system. The spouse of a disabled worker also may collect benefits, as long as the marriage has lasted at least a year and the spouse is caring for a child under the age of 16. If the child is disabled, the benefits may continue past the child's 16th birthday. Benefits for the spouse of a disabled worker also are available to those 62 years of age or older. A spouse who becomes disabled must apply on his own record. If he doesn't have the work or contribution record to qualify for Social Security disability, he may apply for Supplemental Security Income or SSI.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.