Understanding Spouse’s Benefits

January 24, 2019 • By

" "Marriage is a cultural institution that exists all over the world. Having a partner means sharing many things including a home and other property. Understanding how your future retirement might affect your spouse is important. When you’re planning for your fun and vibrant golden years, here are a few things to remember:

Your full spouse’s benefit could be up to 50 percent of your spouse’s full retirement age amount if you are full retirement age when you take it. If you qualify for your own retirement benefit and a spouse’s benefit, we always pay your own benefit first.  You cannot receive spouse’s benefits unless your spouse is receiving his or her retirement benefits (except for divorced spouses). If you took your reduced retirement first while waiting for your spouse to reach retirement age, when you add spouse’s benefits later, your own retirement portion remains reduced which causes the total retirement and spouses benefit together to total less than 50 percent of the worker’s amount. You can find out more on our website.

On the other hand, if your spouse’s retirement benefit is higher than your retirement benefit, and he or she chooses to take reduced benefits and dies first, your survivor benefit will be reduced, but may be higher than what your spouse received.

If the deceased worker started receiving reduced retirement benefits before their full retirement age, a special rule called the retirement insurance benefit limit may apply to the surviving spouse. The retirement insurance benefit limit is the maximum survivor benefit you may receive. Generally, the limit is the higher of:

  • The reduced monthly retirement benefit to which the deceased spouse would have been entitled if they had lived, or
  • 82.5 percent of the unreduced deceased spouse’s monthly benefit if they had started receiving benefits at their full retirement age (rather than choosing to receive a reduced retirement benefit early).

Knowing how your finances affect your spouse’s can help both of you avoid future impacts on your incomes. When it comes to information, we have over 80 years of experience. Access a wealth of useful information by visiting our benefits planners.

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About the Author


Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications


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  1. Jim C.

    I am currently 72 years of age and have been receiving Social Security benefits since age 65. I was formerly employed by the Federal government and retired with benefits
    from the Civil Service Retirement System, under which I did not have payroll contributions to Social Security. My wife of 44 years recently started receiving social security benefits, at age 66, for her own employment. Her benefit is considerable more than mine and I would like to apply for the 50% spousal benefit. Am I eligible for this benefit considering my CSRS pension?

  2. Ana Santiago

    HI, and thank you.
    I will be marrying within a month. He will be retiring at 66 and four moths…very soon, I retired at 62, it looks I can claim 35% as a spousal benefit. But I would like to know if because I was born in 1949, there is an exception, as for me to be able to take the 50% spousal benefit. Thanks for your reply.

  3. Jack Hallick

    Hi Vonda,
    My wife and I both applied for ss retirement benefits at the same time. Just received verification letters stating we will begin receiving checks in February 2021. Her amount is not the 50% of mine we were expecting. Since we have not actually gotten checks yet, what steps should I take to correct this?


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