How Can I Maximize Spousal Benefits?

Picture of couple discussing Social Security spousal benefits.

Social Security benefits can provide critical financial support during retirement, making it essential for individuals to understand how spousal benefits work. The dollar amount of benefits received is impacted by a range of factors, including retirement age, marital status, and the timing of benefit claims. We will delve into the details of how spousal benefits are handled for married couples, divorced individuals, and widowed persons and provide specific examples on how to maximize these benefits.

For Married Couples:

The Full Retirement Age (FRA), defined by the Social Security Administration (SSA), is a key factor in determining the amount of spousal benefits a couple may receive. If both spouses reach their FRA, which ranges between 66 and 67 depending on their birth year, they can choose to claim their own benefit or 50% (half) of their spouse’s benefit, whichever is higher.

However, if either spouse chooses to claim benefits before their full retirement age, the benefit amount will be permanently reduced. For example, if a spouse claims benefits at age 62, the benefit amount would be roughly 30% lower than their full retirement age benefit. The 30% reduction in benefits for those who claim Social Security before their FRA is a commonly used estimate based on the SSA benefit formula. The exact reduction will vary based on an individual’s circumstances. In general, the SSA reduces benefits for those who claim before their FRA by a set percentage for each year before reaching their FRA. The specific reduction percentage depends on the year of birth. For instance, it ranges from 5/9 of 1% per month for those born between 1943 and 1954, to 5/12 of 1% per month for those born after 1959. Based on these reduction percentages, it is estimated that a person who claims benefits at 62, four years before the FRA of 66-67, can expect their benefit amount to be reduced by approximately 30%. However, it’s important to note that this is only an estimate, and the actual reduction may vary.

Divorced Spouses:

Divorced individuals may also be eligible for spousal benefits, provided they were married for 10 years or more, are unmarried, and are at least 62 years of age. The benefit amount is equal to 50% (one-half) of their ex-spouse’s FRA benefit. If the ex-spouse has claimed benefits early, the divorced spouse’s benefit will be based on the reduced amount.

Widowed Spouses:

A widowed spouse may claim the full benefit amount of their deceased spouse at their FRA. However, if a widowed spouse claims benefits before their FRA, the benefit amount will be permanently reduced.

It is important to keep in mind that claiming benefits early will result in a reduction of retirement credits, affecting the total amount of benefits received over a lifetime. Conversely, delaying benefits past the FRA will result in a higher benefit amount.

Fee-Only financial advisers, accountants, and attorneys who specialize in Social Security can help determine the best strategy for maximizing Social Security benefits based on individual circumstances. It is important to understand the impact of retirement age, marital status, and timing of claims to maximize spousal benefits for Social Security. Whether you are married, divorced, or widowed, the right strategy can make a significant difference in the dollar amount of benefits you receive. By carefully considering all of the factors at play, a Fee-Only professional can help ensure that you receive the maximum benefits available to you.

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