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. Maria L.

    Good morning, I watch last night about 12:20 am NZ time, all about the speech of Mr. Wilkie and Ms. Davis and I spoke to one Lady at the confidential crisis tel. no. I said my “Medicare A” card was expired need one to used for my thyroid to fix.I did not change my name on my loss Soc. Sec. Card and never applied for any benefits. Whoever using my identity, please cooperate to me in finding the ages solutions. Thank you.

  2. Kevin

    Bunch of security isn’t a piggy bank but they have made it just that.Notice its always reducing somewhere along the way sure didn’t reduce when we put in to it

  3. Marian N.

    What wold I receive if Travis should die?

    • V.V.

      Hi Marian, thank you for your question. A survivors benefit amount is based on the deceased’s earnings. The more they paid into Social Security, the higher the survivor benefit will be. If the deceased was receiving reduced benefits prior to passing, survivors benefits are based on that amount.

      Widows benefit are payable as early as age 60 (for a reduced benefit) or a full widows benefit at full retirement age or older.

      Use our Survivors Planner to look at how your family members are protected if you die.

  4. Joseph C.

    Terrifically NON-useful post …. overuse of spouse … can’t tell which person you are referring to. Needs clearly delineated as worker & spouse and/or “person A” (worker) and “person B” or similar. I can’t tell who is the worker and which required first etc.

  5. Donna M.

    Will both husband and wife receive their whole benefit check when both are alive and both have retired, one at 65 yrs and the other at 70 yrs?

    • V.V.

      Hi Donna. If husband and wife both worked and paid into Social Security, then both would file for retirement benefits on their own record. Check out our Retirement Planner for additional retirement information.

  6. darrell e.

    Neat kids program! Bet she did well. They cast me as King North Wind at Effingham, if I remember correctly. I was pretty shy in those days, but managed to get thru it.


  7. Nancy B.

    This is a very confusing article. “The spouse” is used more than once in a sentence, and it is difficult to know if you are referring to the same spouse or the other one. Perhaps you could ask some non-experts in ss to read it over to check for clarity.

  8. VIOLET P.

    Social Security was set up to provide income at age 65 for all workers who contributed during their lifetime and isnot an entitilement as our politicans use, but a savings account for workers. It is now being used by so many that have never worked but get it through politicans new rules that many spouses are living in prvety

    • RealityCheck

      Social Security is not held like a savings account, from the moment the Security Security is deducted from your paycheck it’s provided for the current recipients.
      The dire situation of Social Security benefits can be resolved, but it’s the Senate that is unwilling to do so, leaving seniors the victims once again.
      Sadly, many seniors are living in poverty and with the new changes to take effect in 2020, that will only increase.

  9. Dan

    Good article. I was unaware of the 5% of deceased spouse FRA benefit being available to the surviving spouse, even if the deceased spouse took early SS benefits.

  10. Charles W.

    This is a very poorly written article.
    “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.” This as well as other sections of this “explanation” are nearly impossible for even fluent English speakers to comprehend.
    I have asked three of my peers who are college grads to explain this to no avail. Please have this re-written and presented in a more understandable format.

    • pam g.

      Very confusing article!

      • frank

        Very confusing…..
        I read it three times and i cannot make a bonafide guess at what you are trying to say, other than confuse all of those that read it.
        maybe you can get a 5th grader to de-cipher and re-write it in “LAYMANS LANGUAGE” what you are tring to put across.

    • OP

      Your spousal supplement could cause your monthly benefit to be 50% of your spouse’s benefit, but only if you both wait at least to your FRA to begin. If you start early, you will be penalized.

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