Marriage is more than a romantic arrangement. It’s a partnership. The Social Security Administration recognizes that nonworking spouses usually aren’t living the life of Riley, but working to maintain the household and support a working partner. Because of this, anyone married to a Social Security recipient for at least nine months may qualify to receive retirement and survivor benefits based on a spouse’s earnings, even if she didn’t work at all during her life.
Qualifying spouses may receive retirement benefits based upon her working spouse’s Social Security contributions. Spouses don’t qualify for full retirement when the working contributor reaches retirement age, but when the nonworking spouse reaches retirement. Because of this, one spouse may receive benefits years before the other if their ages are different. Spouses who begin collecting benefits at full retirement age receive 50 percent of their spouse’s benefit amount. A working contributor to Social Security receives about 40 percent of his working wage upon full retirement age.
When both spouses work and contribute to Social Security, they have the option to receive their own retirement benefit or receive a spousal benefit, but not both. Depending upon how much each spouse earned and their wages during his career, the spousal benefit amount may be larger than the individual benefit. Married couples should consider benefit estimations to determine which type of benefit package will pay the highest amount, although spousal benefits are only approximately 20 percent of the working spouse’s final monthly earnings in most cases.
If a worker contributes to Social Security dies, his surviving spouse is still entitled to his retirement benefits. Widows may claim reduced benefits as early as age 60, or 50 if they’re disabled, although full retirement benefits aren’t granted unless she waits until full retirement age, which varies from 65 to 67 depending upon her year of birth. Surviving spouses may work and receive widow’s benefits simultaneously, although benefit amounts may be reduced if they earn more than the administration’s allowable income thresholds.
Early Retirement and Benefits
The Social Security Administration grants full retirement benefits to contributors between the age of 65 and 67, but beneficiaries can opt to receive spouse benefits as early as age 65. Pensioners who choose early retirement permanently receive a smaller benefit payment. Spouses who would retire at age 67 and take early benefits at age 62 receive about 32.5 percent of her spouse’s full benefits. At age 63, she receives 45 percent, and benefit amounts increase incrementally until she turns 67, at which time she receives half their spouse’s benefit amount.
Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.