As you transition into retirement, one of the most pressing issues to consider is applying for Social Security. Although these monthly payments probably aren’t your entire income source, they can be a vital part of your retirement budget.
If you’re married when applying for Social Security, your spouse may also be entitled to benefits, even if he or she is not at retirement age. However, while this process is relatively straightforward for current married couples, what if you’re on a second marriage?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict rules regarding spousal benefits, and those might change based on your situation. Since there are so many variables to consider, this article will outline them all so that you can be well informed before applying. Here is what you need to know.
To qualify for Social Security, you have to meet one of three different requirements. First, you have to have paid into the system for at least 10 years by working a job that deducted your contributions from your paychecks. For example, if you work as an independent contractor, you are not paying into Social Security, which means you might not qualify for it later in life.
The second option is if you are disabled, either permanently or temporarily. The SSA has strict rules regarding which disabilities qualify for Social Security Insurance (SSI). You can either receive full benefits because you cannot work at all, or you might be able to receive partial benefits if you otherwise have limited resources.
The final method for receiving Social Security is through spousal benefits. To qualify for these, you have to have been married for at least 10 years, and you or your spouse has to qualify individually (i.e., paying into Social Security). Additionally, the spouse has to be at least 62, which is the youngest that an individual can start receiving benefits.
There is another way to claim spousal benefits for those who are younger than 62. If the individual is caring for a qualifying child (someone younger than 16 who is disabled), he or she can receive full spousal benefits. Otherwise, if a spouse starts earning Social Security before 62, those payments will be reduced, depending on their current age.
In some cases, a spouse may not receive any benefits through marriage. This happens when the person will earn more from individual contributions. For example, if your Social Security benefits will be $1200 per month, but your spousal benefits would be $800, you will receive individual payments instead. These benefits are not added together - you only get the higher of the two.
As a rule, spouses are eligible to receive up to half of their working spouse’s benefits. Here is a breakdown example.
Let’s say that your spouse will earn $1500 in monthly benefits. Because you’re married, you could potentially receive up to $750, as long as you start claiming these payments at age 62 or later.
Conversely, if your individual Social Security checks will be higher than $750, even marginally (i.e., $800), you won’t receive any spousal benefits.
If your spouse dies, you are entitled to survivor benefits through Social Security. Again, you have to have been married for 10 years or more to qualify, and your age will affect the amount of those benefits. Here is a quick breakdown.
Again, if your individual benefits are higher than those you would receive as a survivor, the SSA won’t issue any additional payments. However, because you might be entitled to the full benefit, you could wind up with a higher monthly payment.
For example, let’s say that your spouse earns $1500 per month from Social Security, and you make $1350. With standard spousal benefits, you would only qualify for $750 per month, so the SSA won’t issue those benefits. However, if your spouse died and you were at retirement age, you could start receiving $1500 instead of $1350.
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Several variables can come into play when talking about spousal benefits and remarriage. Here are a few situations to consider:
Regardless of the specifics of your situation, the essential elements of spousal benefits still apply. You have to be at least 62 years old (or 50 with disabilities), you were married to your spouse for at least 10 years, and your spouse is either eligible for benefits or receiving them already. Also, remember that if your benefits are higher than those you would get from a spouse, you won’t receive anything.
Based on those rules, here is how the situations we listed above would play out:
If your spouse remarries and you don’t, you can still claim benefits. The SSA doesn’t split payments among spouses, so you can qualify for the full amount (up to half). Even if your spouse’s new partner starts claiming benefits, that will not affect your earnings. This is also true if your spouse marries multiple times, and each new partner can qualify for benefits.
If you remarry, you cannot claim spousal benefits at all unless your partner died. In that case, you can still claim survivor benefits while married to another person. Remember that survivor benefits can be higher than spousal ones, so it may be easier to receive them. Depending on your age, you might be able to claim between 75 and 100 percent of your spouse’s Social Security payments.
Depending on your situation and the circumstances surrounding your divorce, there are several strategies to consider when trying to receive spousal benefits. Here are some of the most common options:
Because 10 years is the magic number, it might be best to wait until you have crossed that threshold to file for divorce. In the meantime, you can be separated but still legally married so that your benefits can kick in later on. This strategy is ideal if you are not likely to earn much through Social Security when you retire.
Remember that you can claim spousal benefits from exes, no matter how long it has been since your divorce. For example, if you were married from age 25 to 35 and those benefits would be higher than your own, you can still claim them when you retire.
If you do remarry, you will have to wait another 10 years to start receiving spousal benefits. Depending on your age, it might not be a good idea to marry.
For example, if you remarried at age 40, you will likely reach the 10-year milestone before retiring. However, if you are already past 60, you could lose benefits that would help out during retirement. If you know that your individual Social Security payments will be less than spousal benefits, you could be putting yourself in financial jeopardy.
Another point to keep in mind is that you can claim spousal benefits without notifying your ex. As long as you meet the requirements, you can file individually, and your ex will be none the wiser. Again, the SSA doesn’t diminish benefits for multiple spouses, so there is no reason not to claim them if they benefit you financially.
If your previous spouse dies and you’re considering remarrying, you can calculate which benefits will be the highest. Technically, you will have three options available:
Keep in mind that you can receive survivor benefits even if you remarry, so you might be able to receive those payments until you are eligible for spousal benefits from your new partner. Again, your age will determine the amounts you’ll receive, so it can vary significantly if you have not reached retirement age yet.
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With so many variables to consider when filing for Social Security benefits, it can all seem overwhelming. One excellent way to ensure that you will be financially stable is to work with an advisor. At NextGen Wealth, we can help you make the right decision for your Social Security needs. Call us today to find out more.
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