Social Security benefits are an essential part of most Americans' retirement plans, but in order to receive them, you typically need to have worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years.
However, there's a chance you may still be eligible to receive Social Security benefits, even if you've never had a job. And because the Social Security Administration usually won't notify you if you're eligible for these types of benefits, it's essential to do your own research to determine whether you qualify.
If your spouse is eligible for benefits, you may be, as well
Even if you're not eligible to receive benefits based on your work record (or lack thereof), you may still be able to receive them based on your spouse's (or former spouse's) work record. You may be eligible to collect up to 50% of your spouse's benefit amount if your partner claims at their full retirement age (FRA). For example, if your spouse is eligible to receive $1,500 per month at their FRA, your benefit amount cannot exceed $750 per month.
In order to claim spousal benefits, you must be at least 62 years old and your spouse must be receiving benefits, as well. Although you can claim benefits as early as age 62, if you claim before your FRA -- which is either age 66, 66 and a certain number of months, or 67, depending on the year you were born -- your benefits will be permanently reduced by up to 30%.
If you're divorced, you may be able to claim benefits based on your ex-spouse's work record. To claim divorce benefits, your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years and you cannot currently be married. If your ex-spouse has remarried, however, you can still claim benefits based on their record.
If you're eligible to receive divorce benefits, it won't affect how much your ex-spouse (or his or her current spouse) can receive in benefits. You must be at least 62 years old to file for divorce benefits, and the maximum you can receive is 50% of your ex-spouse's full benefit amount if he or she files at their FRA. Lastly, your ex-spouse does not need to have applied to claim Social Security benefits for you to receive divorce benefits based on their record.
Widow(ers) may be entitled to benefits, too
Finally, if you're a widow or widower, you may be entitled to survivors benefits. Whether or not you're eligible to receive them depends on the age of your spouse when they passed away. If your spouse worked for at least 10 years, then they qualify for benefits and you may be entitled to survivors benefits. But even if your spouse didn't work that long, there's still a chance you could qualify.
The eligibility requirements for survivors benefits can be murky, but in general, a widow or widower must be at least 60 years old to file for benefits. You may also qualify if you're age 50 or older and have a disability. If you're currently caring for the deceased worker's child, who is either under age 16 or disabled, you can file for survivors benefits at any age.
It's not just spouses who may be eligible for survivors benefits: surviving children, ex-spouses, parents, and occasionally other relatives may also qualify. Each situation is different, and the amount you qualify for will depend greatly on how much the worker was eligible to receive and how many people are filing for benefits. So if you think you're eligible to receive survivors benefits, contact an SSA representative. You can't file for survivors benefits online, so you'll need to either call or make an appointment with a representative to discuss your unique situation.
Because the SSA isn't always aware of your marital or family situation, you may not be notified if you're eligible for any of these benefits. That means it's up to you to do your homework and find out what you're entitled to receive. If you qualify for these types of Social Security benefits, you could boost your retirement income by hundreds of dollars per month.