The best advantage of marriage is to grow old with the one you love. But sometimes Social Security sweetens the deal even more.
Social security allows you to claim benefits on your own file or that of your spouse. If you make a request in your spouse’s file, you will receive up to 50% of their primary insurance amount, i.e. the amount to which they would be entitled to the full retirement age. For those with a limited employment history, this can lead to a considerably higher benefit.
4 myths about social security and marriage
The rules for Social Security spousal benefits aren’t exactly straightforward, and they have changed over the years. Here are four common misconceptions about love, marriage, and Social security benefits.
1. Myth: You can get deferred credits if you apply in your spouse’s file. The truth: if you apply for a spouse’s file, your benefits are maximum when you reach full retirement age.
Social Security rewards those who wait. When you apply for benefits based on your own employment record, you will receive an additional 8% deferred retirement credit for each year you push your full retirement age back up to age 70.
But you can only earn deferred retirement credits if you claim them on your own record. If you use your spouse’s file, your benefit peaks at your full retirement age, which is 66 or 67 for most people.
2. Myth: Your spouse’s benefit will be 50% of your spouse’s full retirement age benefit. The truth is, your benefit could be as little as 32.5% of your spouse’s.
Fifty percent is the most you can get if your benefits are based on a living spouse’s record. If you receive benefits before your full retirement age, regardless of your spouse’s age, your checks will be even lower. Starting benefits as soon as possible at age 62 means you will only receive 32.5% of the benefit at full retirement age from your spouse.
3. Myth: You can collect spousal benefits and then switch to your own higher benefit later. The truth: this is only an option if you were born on January 2, 1954 or before.
In the past, many couples have used this clever strategy known as filing a restricted claim for spousal benefits to bolster their social security. The lower-income spouse would claim 50% of the higher-income spouse’s benefit while allowing their deferred retirement credits to accumulate. Then they would move on to their own higher benefit later on.
But the 2015 bipartisan budget law changed the rules. From now on, you can only make a restricted application for spousal benefits if you were born on or before January 2, 1954. Two exceptions: you are caring for a disabled child under the age of 16 or you are entitled to both spousal benefits and disability benefits benefits.
4. Myth: You can get both of your benefits if one of you dies. The truth: you will receive the higher of the two, but not both.
The rules are different for surviving spouses: If your spouse dies and you have reached full retirement age, you are entitled to survivor benefits equal to 100% of the benefit your spouse received. If you are between 60 (or 50 if you are disabled) and your full retirement age, you will receive between 71.5% and 99% of their benefit.
However, you will not receive their benefits in addition to yours. Social Security will calculate the two benefits and give you the higher of the two.
What if the marriage doesn’t last?
Even if you are divorced, you can still get benefits on the basis of your ex-spouse’s file, provided that your marriage lasted at least 10 years and that you have been divorced for two years. The same basic rules apply to ex-spouses as to current spouses: Your benefit will be between 32.5% and 50% of their total amount, depending on when you start your checks. You cannot have both benefits at the same time. You cannot earn deferred credits for having passed your full retirement age. In addition, the fact of claiming on the basis of their file has no impact on their services.
The bottom line: As long as your marriage has lasted 10 years and you don’t remarry, you don’t have to grow old with someone you don’t love to get their Social Security.