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Social Security Spousal Benefit Rules to Know

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.

The benefits of marriage don’t stop at love and companionship. In some situations, marriage can result in more Social Security benefits. If you stay married for at least 10 years, those benefits can last even if you get divorced.

But the rules for marriage and Social Security get complicated.

You don’t automatically get more Social Security benefits just because you’re married. Many, if not most, people will get the biggest benefit by claiming on their own work record.

But if your work history is limited and you marry someone who earns significantly more money than you do, you may get more from Social Security by claiming spousal benefits. Here are several things married couples can’t afford not to know.

1. You can get up to 50% of your spouse’s full benefit

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The maximum spousal benefit is 50% of your spouse’s primary insurance amount. That’s the benefit they’ll qualify for once they reach their full retirement age, which is 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later.

If you take spousal benefits before your own full retirement age, you’ll get less than 50%. For example, if you start benefits at 62 — the earliest age you can take Social Security — you’d receive just 32.5% of your spouse’s primary amount.

2. You don’t get to claim both benefits

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Sorry, but the perks of marriage don’t include double-dipping. Social Security will give you whichever amount is higher: your own benefit or your spousal benefit, but not both.

If you qualify for some benefits based on your earnings history, technically Social Security will use your own record first. Then they’ll use your spouse’s record to get you the maximum benefit.

3. There’s no extra credit for waiting past full retirement age for spouses

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When you take Social Security on your own record, you’ll get the maximum benefit at age 70. That’s because for every year you delay Social Security past your full retirement age, you boost your benefit checks for life by 8%, thanks to delayed retirement credits.

But if you’re taking spousal benefits, you can’t earn delayed retirement benefits. Your benefits will max out once you reach full retirement age, which is 67 for anyone born after 1959.

4. You can’t claim a spouse’s Social Security disability benefit

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You can only claim Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if you’ve paid into Social Security yourself and have a qualifying medical condition.

You can’t take disability benefits on someone else’s record, including a spouse’s.

5. Divorcing? You may still be able to get spousal benefits

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If you were married for at least 10 years and you’ve been divorced for at least two years, you can claim on your ex’s Social Security.

The same spousal rules apply: Your maximum benefit will be 50% of their primary amount. You’ll receive a lower amount if you claim early, and you won’t earn delayed retirement credits for waiting past your full retirement age.

Your ex-spouse needs to be at least 62 for you to claim on their record. Your decision will have absolutely no effect on your ex-spouse. Likewise, if someone you’ve divorced takes Social Security on your record, your benefits won’t be reduced.

6. If you’ve remarried, you can’t claim on your ex’s benefits

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Once you remarry, you’re not allowed to claim spousal benefits on your ex’s Social Security. But once you’ve been married for a year, you can qualify for benefits on your current spouse’s record.

If you’ve had more than one marriage that lasted 10 years or more and ended in divorce, Social Security will look at everyone’s record — yours and each ex-spouse’s — and give you the biggest benefit.

7. Survivor benefits are up to 100% of the deceased spouse’s benefit

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If your spouse dies before you, you can qualify for up to 100% of the deceased spouse’s Social Security benefits through survivor benefits if you wait until your full retirement age.

You can start survivor benefits as early as 60 (or 50 if you’re disabled), but you’ll receive a reduced amount. These rules apply to ex-spouses as well, provided that the marriage lasted for at least 10 years.

As with spousal benefits, you’ll get whichever is bigger: your own benefit or the survivor benefit, but not both.

There’s also an exception to the remarriage rule for surviving spouses: Widowed and ex-spouses who qualify for survivor benefits can remarry at 60 (or 50 if disabled) and continue to receive their late spouse’s benefits.

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