Married or Divorced? Here Are the Social Security Check Moves to Make: It appears that more so in recent years, Social Security benefits are now being relied on more heavily than ever to fund a comfortable retirement for millions of American seniors.
In fact, according to recent data put out by the Social Security Administration (SSA), approximately 20 percent of married couples and 40 percent of singles receive at least a whopping 90 percent of their overall income from the Social Security program.
With this in mind, many experts urge retirees and soon-to-be ones to stay on top of any program changes that could have sizeable impacts on how much their monthly checks will be. And for those who are married or divorced—as millions of recipients already are—they could be in line for more direct cash than they might think.
The expert notes that “if you’re currently married or divorced from someone who is entitled to Social Security benefits, you could qualify for spousal or divorce benefits based on his or her work record. To receive spousal benefits, you must be married to someone who will receive Social Security. For divorce benefits, your marriage must have lasted for at least ten years, and you cannot currently be married.”
The maximum amount than an individual can receive via spousal benefits is half of the higher-earning spouse’s benefit amount at their full retirement age (FRA). But if the widow or widower qualifies for Social Security on their own record and the monthly payments are higher, they have the option to switch to their own benefit at any time between ages sixty-two and seventy.
If both husband and wife qualify for Social Security benefits, it is best to think about when each should file.
The expert contends that “in some cases, it may be wise for the lower-earning spouse to claim earlier while the higher-earning spouse delays benefits. This way, you’ll have some extra income earlier in retirement, but you’ll start earning a much bigger boost down the road. In other scenarios, it may be best for both of you to delay benefits to earn as much as possible from Social Security. Or you may both choose to claim early to get a jump-start on retirement. If you’re divorced, the age your ex-spouse chooses to claim will not affect your benefit amount. But if you’re collecting divorce benefits, you’ll earn more each month by waiting until your FRA to file.”
It may not be the most pleasant topic for sure, but it is important to weigh options in the event a spouse passes away—as that decision could dictate how much one receives in Social Security benefits in the years ahead.
“When one spouse passes away, the other is generally eligible to collect the deceased spouse’s entire benefit amount in survivors benefits,” the expert writes. “If you expect your spouse to outlive you, it may be smart for you to delay benefits so that your spouse will receive a higher benefit amount later in life if you pass away first.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.