Social Security Spousal Benefits: Top 5 Questions (and Answers)

By:  Vanessa Craddock, Federal Benefits Specialist

Published:  October 2021


Once you are eligible to collect your Social Security (SS) retirement benefit, you may also entitle your spouse to a monthly benefit if he or she meets certain qualifications. This is true even if your spouse has never worked under Social Security. Generally, a current spouse benefit is payable if your spouse has been married to you for one year, is at least age 62, and is not qualified for a higher benefit based on his/her own earnings record. The most important fact about the spousal benefit is the timing when the benefit is claimed. Below are 5 common questions employees ask about the spousal benefit:

Question #1: If I start SS on my own earnings record at age 62, and my spouse doesn’t retire until his full retirement age (FRA) (5 years from now), can I switch to my spouse’s SS record if my spousal benefit pays me a higher amount?
Answer: Yes. However, if you start collecting SS at 62 on your own record, your spousal benefit will also be reduced. If your spouse should predecease you, and you become entitled as a widow/er, you may be entitled to the amount your deceased spouse was collecting at the time of death if you are at your FRA.
Question #2: I am interested in working until age 70 to max out the amount of SS I can get. Will my spouse’s benefit be based on the amount I am due at FRA, or the maxed amount I am due at 70?
Answer: The maximum amount of spousal benefit (if your spouse is FRA) is 50% of your benefit at your full retirement age. Your spouse will not collect your maxed amount until you die, and then it’s 100%, as long as your spouse is FRA when the survivor benefit becomes payable.
Question #3: My spouse is 6 years older than I am. Can I, at 62, collect a spousal benefit when he retires, delay my own until 70, then switch to my own at the maximum amount?
AnswerYou are no longer able to choose to collect your spousal benefit amount first and delay your own. To do so, your date of birth must be prior to January 2, 1954. If born 1/2/1954 or after, when you apply for SS, you will automatically be paid either as a worker or a spouse, whichever is the higher amount. You may still delay your SS until 70, but you will not be allowed to collect the spousal benefit meantime.
Question #4: I am divorced after 12 years of marriage, single, and collecting a moderate SS benefit. My ex-spouse made much more money. Can I collect on her earnings record even though she is remarried?
Answer: Yes. As long as you were married at least 10 years, are at least age 62, and unmarried, you appear to be qualified. Any benefits payable to a divorced spouse will not affect SS benefits for a new spouse. 
Question #5: I am a CSRS employee, and was told I could not collect my spouse’s SS. Is that true?
Answer: That is false. As long as you are still a CSRS employee, and your spouse is collecting SS retirement, you may collect the spousal benefit at your FRA (your earnings would not interfere). However, upon your retirement, a law called the Government Pension Offset (GPO) will be used to reduce your spousal benefit, often to zero.
The Social Security website covers all SS spousal benefit requirements and offers calculators to assist in determining amounts.
Remember, it’s never too early to understand your SS spousal benefits.
Ms. Craddock has been an instructor with NITP since the year 2000. She started her career with the Social Security Administration before moving to the US Office of Personnel Management. At OPM, she worked as a Certified Federal Benefits Specialist, trainer, course developer and manager, and supervisor of 20 employees for adjudicating retirement claims. After more than 25 years of experience in the Federal Benefits Administration, she retired and now continues her work as an instructor, providing Federal benefits training nationwide, for live events and via webinars.
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