Even if you have never worked at all, or do not have enough work credits of your own, if your spouse is alive and receiving Social Security retirement benefits, you may be eligible to receive a spousal benefit. The maximum spousal benefit is 50% of what your husband or wife receives. Eligibility begins at age 62; however, if you retire and claim the spousal benefit before your full retirement age (typically 66), the benefit will be less than 50%. This reduction in benefit depends on how many months before full retirement age you begin.
Another strategy is the “claim and suspend” strategy used by married couples. This strategy can work if you can afford to wait until age 70 to claim all of your benefits. This works when one spouse claims his or her Social Security benefit and the other spouse signs up for the spousal benefit. The first spouse then immediately notifies Social Security that he or she wants to “suspend” his or benefit. This causes the primary benefit to stop but the spousal benefit continues.
While the primary benefit is suspended, the amount of the benefit will increase by 8% a year, until age 70. After, the spouse will unsuspend and collect the larger benefit. You can only use this strategy if you are at full retirement age and have never collected early benefits.
The Surviving Spouse Social Security Benefit rules that apply to a surviving spouse of a deceased Social Security retiree are different. The survivor’s benefit can be claimed by a spouse who is at least age 60 (two years sooner than eligibility for a normal spousal benefit). Also, the survivor’s benefit can be as much as 100% of the benefit received by the deceased spouse. This means that if a spouse was receiving a 50% spousal benefit, that can double upon the death of the other spouse.
Unfortunately, if the widow or widower claims a survivor’s benefit before reaching full retirement age, the benefit will be decreased by as much as 28.5%, depending on their age.
In conclusion, never claim your own Social Security retirement benefit without coordinating how regular and spousal benefits can maximize the total Social Security payments that you receive as a married couple. Additionally, always consider how it might affect your spouse after you die before claiming your own retirement benefits.