Exploring retirement income before retirement may prevent surprises. Your Social Security and your spouse’s Social Security work together to provide income for your retirement years. The effect of one retirement on the other depends on whether you both work and have sufficient credits of work history. Your earned retirement benefits are independent of your spouse. Spousal benefits entitle a spouse to half of your retirement dollar amount, but you still receive 100 percent.
Social Security retirement requires 10 years or 40 credits of work history to qualify for any benefits. If you work 10 years and pay Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes, you qualify for Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. Social Security bases retirement benefits on 35 years of employment, so your retirement check will be small unless you work more than 10 years. Alternatively, you may qualify for spousal benefits.
If your spouse qualifies for Social Security retirement, you may qualify for spousal benefits on your spouse’s work history. At full retirement age, which is 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954, a spouse can receive 50 percent of the retirement benefits of the worker. The worker receives 100 percent of his retirement benefits at full retirement age, or can wait to collect 130 percent of full-retirement-age benefits at age 70. If both spouses collect benefits at full retirement age, the worker receives 100 percent and the spouse receives 50 percent. The family unit receives 150 percent in this scenario.
If both spouses work, each work history is independent of the other. You can either collect Social Security retirement benefits on your own work history at 100 percent at full retirement age or collect 50 percent of your spouse’s benefit. Social Security calculates your benefit first, but if you receive more with 50 percent of the spouse’s benefit, you get the larger amount. Your spouse must file for benefits to start your spousal benefits, but may suspend payment until ready to collect. This allows the retirement fund to increase for the working spouse.
If you were married 10 years before divorce, your ex-spouse may receive Social Security retirement benefits on your work history. Your ex-spouse must be age 62 and not remarried prior to age 60 for early retirement benefits. Unlike the rules for the current spouse, you do not have to file for benefits, but you must qualify with sufficient work and age requirements. Any retirement benefits received by the ex-spouse have no effect on your benefits or the benefits of your current spouse.
- Social Security Online: Benefits for Your Spouse; February 2011
- Social Security Online: Full Retirement Age; February 2011
- Social Security Online: What You Need to Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits; January 2010
- Social Security Online: Your Retirement Benefit: How It Is Figured; 2010
- Social Security Online: What Every Woman Should Know; July 2009
Linda Richard has been a legal writer and antiques appraiser for more than 25 years, and has been writing online for more than 12 years. Richard holds a bachelor's degree in English and business administration. She has operated a small business for more than 20 years. She and her husband enjoy remodeling old houses and are currently working on a 1970s home.