Understanding Spouse’s Benefits

January 24, 2019 • By

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Last Updated: May 25, 2021

" "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


  1. Levy U.

    Will retire in April 2021 when I turn 70, and they told me that my husband is qualified for spousal benefit and he will be 69 in August 2021. He will take his retirement when he turns 70 in 2022.
    Where is the spousal benefit money coming from

    • Vonda

      Hi Levy, thanks for using our blog to ask your questions. Your husband may be able to get spouse’s benefits but, under existing law, if he’s eligible for benefits both as a retired worker and as a spouse, he must apply for both benefits and he’ll receive the higher of the two benefits. This requirement is called “deemed filing” because when you apply for one benefit you are “deemed” to have also applied for the other.

      There is an exception to deemed filing for those who turn 62 before January 2, 2016. Check out our Deemed Filing For Retirement And Spouse’s Benefits web page for details.

      Your husband can apply online. One question in the application path is “If you are eligible for both a retirement benefit and spouse’s benefit, do you want to delay receipt of retirement benefits?” If your husband meets the exception and answers yes, the application will be restricted to just spouse’s benefits.

      If you need further assistance, call us at 1-800-772-1213 or you can contact your local Social Security office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

  2. Kim O.

    I started receiving my benefits on my earnings in 2019. My husband just started receiving benefits January 2021. How do I switch from drawing on my earnings to spouse benefits? I can’t seem to find the answer to that anywhere.

  3. Sandra W.

    thanks…I applied for Retirement benefits early n Jan and my application is being processed. My husband is eligible to file a Restricted application for spousal benefits. Can he file the Restricted Application NOW before I actually begin receiving retirement benefits????

  4. Lloyd W.

    I am very confused about a situation in California. A couple gets divorced in California. The spouse starts a civil union in California No formal license or ceremony. It is a heterosexual relationship. Can the spouse get benefits from her former spouse (he is still alive)

    • Vonda

      Hi Lloyd, thanks for using our blog. If divorced, the ex may be able to receive benefits based on the ex-spouse’s record (even if the ex remarried) if:

      – The marriage lasted 10 years or longer.
      – They’re unmarried.
      – They’re age 62 or older.
      – The benefit that they’re entitled to receive based on their own work is less than the benefit they would receive based on the ex’s work.
      – The ex is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

      Check out our Benefits For Your Divorced Spouse web page for more information.

  5. Bruce D.

    I will reach full retirement age next month, 66 and 2 months. My wife is 68, due to a medical condition, she was on social security disability, and is now on regular social security. Once I start collecting, will she be entitled to spousal benefits. If so, will it be 50% of my benefit?

    • Vonda

      Hi Bruce, thanks for the questions. We will always pay your wife’s retirement benefit first. If benefits as a spouse are higher than her own retirement benefits, she will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse benefit. However, her spouse’s benefit cannot exceed one-half of your full retirement amount. So, she can only receive additional spouse’s benefits if her own full retirement benefit is less than half of your full retirement benefit. Once you apply for retirement benefits, she can apply for additional spouse’s benefits if she’s eligible. Check out our Benefits For Your Spouse web page for additional details.

  6. MJ Y.

    I have completed filling out form ssa1724-44 and do not know where to send it. I live in Oregon should that make a difference. I am also interested in estimating my survivor benefit so that I can plan my budget once the benefit starts to come in. I have not been able to find the correct table from which to make this estimation. I have been trying to gather this information for a while now and have yet to succeed beyond the point of completing said form Thanks for replying to me ASAP. 401 487 8701

    • Vonda

      Hi MJ. You can call your local Social Security office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

  7. josie m.

    hello, hyow would i get social security statement for my husband that has pasted away before i apply for social security.

    • Sue

      We are sorry for your loss, Josie. You cannot get a Social Security Statement for someone else. To get information about your survivors benefits, please call your local office. You’ll find the phone number using our Social Security Office Locator. You cannot file for survivors benefits online. For more information, visit our If You Are The Survivor web page.

  8. Jack H.

    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?

    • Sue

      Hi, Jack. Thank you for using our blog. Unfortunately, your question is a bit more complex than we can handle in this forum. For your security, we don’t have access to information about your wife’s application. We ask members of our Blog community to call your local office with specific questions. Your wife will find the phone number with our Social Security Office Locator. Please be patient as our call volume and wait times are higher than normal.

      For more information, check out our Benefits for Your Spouse web page. If your wife began receiving retirement benefits on her own work record before her full retirement age, her benefits as your spouse will be reduced. Reduction factors are permanently applied to all benefits she may qualify for, including spouse’s benefits. You may wish to check out our online Spouse Calculator to do your own calculations. We hope this is helpful.

  9. Ana S.

    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.

    • Sue

      Hi, Ana. Thanks for reading our blog and for your question. According to our current policy, a spouse must meet a 1 year duration-of-marriage requirement before filing for spouse’s benefit. For more information about this topic, please check out our Benefits For Your Spouse web page. We hope this is helpful.

  10. 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?

    • Vonda

      Hi Jim, thanks for using our blog. If you receive a pension from a government job in which you did not pay Social Security taxes, some or all of your Social Security spouse’s, divorced spouse’s, widower’s, or surviving divorced widower’s benefit may be offset due to receipt of that pension. This offset is referred to as the Government Pension Offset, or GPO. For additional details, check out our Government Pension Offset factsheet.

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