SSA spousal benefits are provided by the Social Security Administration to individuals married to or divorced from wage-earners who are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits. Age 62 is the earliest age at which SSA spousal benefits can be collected, with one exception being the case in which a spouse is caring for a dependent child under the age of 16. Since full retirement age is defined by the Social Security Administration as age 66 for people born between 1943 and 1954, a spousal benefit applied for at an earlier age will be reduced according to the months left until full retirement age.
Benefits on a Spouse's Earnings Record
Once a worker applies for Social Security retirement benefits, his spouse can apply for a spousal benefit. The spouse will receive one-half the benefit amount the worker would receive if applying for benefits at age 66. If the spouse is less than 66-years-old, then the spousal benefit will be reduced by a percentage that takes into account the months remaining until the spouse reaches full retirement age. For example, if a wage earner applies for Social Security benefits at age 66, and the spouse applies for the spousal benefit at age 62, then the spousal benefit will be reduced by 65 percent to account for the 48 months leading up to full retirement age.
Spouses Caring for a Dependent Child Younger Than Age 16
A spouse of any age caring for a dependent child younger than age 16 and receiving Social Security benefits can claim a spousal benefit and receive one-half the full benefit amount. Once the child reaches age 16, the spousal benefit ends, and if the spouse is age 62 or older, she can start receiving retirement benefits on her own record.
A wage-earner's spouse who never has earned Social Security-taxed wages still can apply for Medicare benefits at age 65.
Benefits for Divorced Spouses
A divorced spouse can receive a spousal benefit on the wage-earner's record if the marriage lasted for at least 10 years. The divorced spouse must be at least 62-years-old and unmarried. If the wage earner is eligible but has not yet applied for benefits, the divorce must have occurred at least two years prior to application. If the divorced spouse applying for the spousal benefit is eligible for benefits on his own Social Security record, the amount of benefits on the wage-earner's record will be compared to it, and the divorced spouse will receive the higher amount.
Delayed Retirement Credits and the Spousal Benefit
A wage-earner who has reached full retirement age 66 can elect to apply for full retirement benefits---allowing a spouse to claim a spousal benefit---and then have the benefits suspended, earning 8 percent interest each year, until age 70. Conversely, a wage-earner less than full retirement age can apply for retirement benefits while the spouse, age 66 or older, simply can apply for the spousal benefit, leaving her own retirement benefit to earn 8 percent interest until age 70.
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