Dear Rusty: My wife isn’t getting half of my Social Security benefit amount. Shouldn’t she be? Signed: Feeling Cheated
Dear Feeling Cheated: A spouse does not always receive 50% of the husband’s Social Security benefit, because it depends on the age at which both of you claimed Social Security, and whether your wife was entitled to benefits from her own lifetime work record.
If your wife is entitled to Social Security on her own work record and claimed that before she reached her full retirement age (FRA), she would never get half of your benefit amount as your spouse because she claimed her own benefit early. Your wife’s spousal benefit consists of both her own benefit and a “spousal boost,” so claiming her own reduced benefit early would also result in a lower spousal benefit. Her spousal boost, which was based upon her full retirement age (FRA) benefit amount compared to half of your FRA benefit amount, will also be reduced if she claimed the spouse benefit before her full retirement age.
If your wife wasn’t entitled to her own benefit (from her own lifetime work record), but instead claimed her spouse benefit from you before reaching her FRA, her spouse benefit would be permanently reduced, again because she claimed it before her full retirement age. A basic Social Security rule is that any time any Social Security benefit is claimed before full retirement age, that benefit is permanently reduced.
The spouse benefit is based upon each spouse’s benefit amount at their full retirement age. So, for example, if you delayed beyond your FRA to get a higher personal benefit for yourself, your wife’s spousal benefit would still be based upon your FRA benefit amount, not the increased amount you received by delaying past your FRA to claim. Which would again mean a spousal benefit which is less than 50% of your actual benefit.
So, as you can see, a spouse doesn’t always get half of the higher earning spouse’s Social Security benefit. Your wife’s benefit will be less than 50% of your FRA benefit if she took any SS benefit before reaching her full retirement age. And it will also be less than half of the benefit you are now receiving if you delayed past your own FRA to claim a higher benefit for yourself.
Russell Gloor is an Association of Mature American Citizens certified social security advisor. To submit a question, visit amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisoryor email firstname.lastname@example.org.