Single adults have it pretty easy when it comes to Social Security. Their benefit is based on their average monthly earnings over their 35 highest-earning years, adjusted for inflation and the age they begin taking benefits -- no exceptions. But for married couples, divorced couples, and widow(er)s, its a little more complicated.
You could be eligible for benefits based on your own work record just like single adults or you could claim benefits based on your current spouses, ex-spouses, or deceased spouses work record if you meet certain criteria.
Image source: Getty Images.Social Security benefits for married couplesMarried couples receive the higher of their own Social Security benefit or half of their spouses benefit at his or her full retirement age (FRA), which is 66 or 67 depending on the persons birth year.
You must work at least 10 years in order to qualify for Social Security benefits based on your own work record, but you can claim spousal benefits without ever working a day in your life as long as your spouse is eligible for Social Security. However, you cannot claim spousal benefits until he or she files for Social Security.
A common strategy married couples use to maximize their benefits is for the lower-earning spouse to begin claiming benefits on their own work record early to generate some extra income, allowing the higher-earning spouse to delay benefits until their FRA or age 70 when theyre entitled to the maximum Social Security benefit -- 124% of your scheduled benefit per check if your FRA is 67 or 132% if your FRA is 66.
Then, their larger checks will help cover a bigger portion of the couples living expenses. The Social Security Administration will automatically switch the lower-earning spouse over to a spousal benefit at this point if it offers him or her more money than their own Social Security benefit.This strategy works well if one spouse earns significantly more than the other, but if both earn about the same, they might get more by both delaying their benefits as long as possible.
When both people earn about the same amount, its unlikely that a spousal benefit will grant them more money than their own benefit, so each person should aim to increase their own benefit by delaying Social Security for a few months or years.Social Security benefits for divorced couplesThe rules surrounding Social Security benefits for divorced couples are similar to the rules for married couples with a couple of exceptions.
First, you must have been married to your ex for at least 10 years in order to claim benefits on his or her work record. You also cannot remarry if you intend to claim spousal benefits on your exs work record. If you do, you may claim spousal benefits on your new spouses work record, but not on your exs.
.Divorced individuals also do not have to wait for their ex to begin claiming Social Security in order to file for spousal benefits. As long as you are 62 or older and have been divorced for at least two years, you may.....