Social Security: Insights for Married Couples on Spousal Benefits in 2024

Married individuals are eligible to claim Social Security benefits based on their retired spouse's work record.

Married individuals are eligible to claim Social Security benefits based on their retired spouse’s work record. 

However, it is essential to understand that spousal benefits have distinct characteristics compared to benefits earned by retired workers. 

Key Facts About Spousal Social Security Benefits

Here are four key considerations for married couples to be aware of in 2024.

Factors Influencing Spousal Social Security Benefits

A spouse claiming Social Security benefits based on their partner’s work record receives a benefit equivalent to 50% of the partner’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). 

The PIA reflects the benefit a retired worker can obtain upon claiming Social Security at their Full Retirement Age (FRA), calculated based on their lifetime earnings.

Essentially, the spousal benefit is tied to the retired worker’s lifetime income on whose record the spouse claims Social Security. 

The age at which the spouse claims also affects spousal benefits. Although spouses can become eligible for benefits at age 62, those opting for an earlier claim before their FRA receive a reduced payout, which is less than 50% of their retired partner’s PIA.

The specific reduction depends on the age at which the spouse decides to claim Social Security before reaching their Full Retirement Age.

No Boost for Spousal Benefits After Full Retirement Age

Married individuals are eligible to claim Social Security benefits based on their retired spouse’s work record.

Spousal benefits differ significantly from benefits claimed by retired workers due to the absence of delayed retirement credits for spouses. 

Unlike retired workers, spouses do not experience an augmented payout if they choose to commence Social Security after reaching their Full Retirement Age (FRA).

Conversely, retired workers who postpone claiming Social Security beyond their FRA accumulate delayed retirement credits, leading to an increased benefit. 

These credits boost the benefit by two-thirds of 1% per month, equating to an 8% annual increment. 

The accrual of these credits concludes at age 70, creating an incentive for retired workers to optimize their payout by delaying Social Security until that age.

Spousal Benefits Tied to Partner’s Social Security

Spouses cannot claim Social Security based on their retired partner’s work record unless the partner is already receiving retirement benefits.

This limitation may present challenges in certain situations. For example, if the retired worker decides to delay Social Security until age 70 for maximum benefits, it may delay the spouse from claiming at their FRA. 

In such instances, the spouse would need to wait until their partner claims at age 70 (additional details below).

Similarly, if a spouse’s partner suspends their retired-worker benefit to accumulate delayed retirement credits, the Social Security benefit for the spouse would also be suspended.

Choosing Benefits: Spousal Social Security

Spousal benefits are contingent upon at least one individual in the couple receiving benefits. The other partner may qualify based on their own work record. 

In such instances, the spouse automatically receives the larger of the two benefits when applying for Social Security. 

It’s crucial to recognize that simultaneous claims for spousal benefits and the accumulation of delayed retirement credits on one’s own benefit are not permissible. 

Upon applying for Social Security, spouses are automatically considered for both benefit types, receiving the larger payout.

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