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3 Ways Your Marital Status Can Affect Your Social Security Benefits

By Katie Brockman – Aug 14, 2021 at 5:30AM

Key Points

  • Whether you're married, divorced, or widowed, you may be entitled to more money in benefits.
  • Even if you're already eligible for your own benefits, you may qualify for an additional amount each month.

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You could receive more money than you think.

The average retiree receives just over $1,500 per month in Social Security benefits, and that money can go a long way in retirement. If you're expecting to rely on your monthly checks for a substantial source of income, it's smart to make sure you're maximizing your payments.

There are several factors that affect your benefit amount, including your earnings throughout your career and the number of years you've worked. But your marital status can also affect how much you receive. Here's how.

Two seniors holding hands and walking on the beach.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. You could be entitled to spousal benefits

Spousal benefits are available to those who are married to someone eligible for Social Security benefits. Generally, only those who haven't worked long enough to qualify for their own benefits are eligible for spousal benefits. However, you may be able to receive spousal benefits even if you're entitled to your own monthly payments.

The most you can collect in spousal benefits is half of the amount your spouse qualifies for at his or her full retirement age (FRA). For example, if your spouse would receive $1,500 per month at his or her FRA, the maximum you can collect is $750 per month.

If you're receiving more than that based on your own work record, you don't qualify for spousal benefits. But if your benefit amount is lower than what you'd receive in spousal benefits, the Social Security Administration will pay the higher of the two amounts.

2. You might qualify for divorce benefits

Divorce benefits are similar to spousal benefits, except they're available to those who are divorced from someone who is entitled to Social Security.

In order to qualify for divorce benefits, your marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years, and you cannot currently be married. If your ex-spouse has remarried, though, that will not affect your ability to claim divorce benefits. The amount you receive will also have no effect on your ex-spouse's benefit amount or how much his or her current spouse may collect in spousal benefits.

As with spousal benefits, the maximum you can receive is 50% of the amount your ex-spouse can collect at his or her FRA. One key difference, though, is that if you've been divorced for less than two years, you cannot begin claiming until your ex-spouse files for benefits.

3. You could collect survivors benefits if your spouse passes away

Survivors benefits are slightly different than spousal and divorce benefits because they're not limited to spouses and ex-spouses. While widow(er)s are generally the primary beneficiaries of survivors benefits, children, parents, and other family members are sometimes eligible, too.

If your spouse is entitled to Social Security benefits and passes away, you may be entitled to receive his or her full benefit amount if you're age 60 or older (or age 50 or older if you're disabled). If you have a child who is under age 16 or disabled, you may also be eligible for survivors benefits regardless of your age.

Determining whether you qualify for survivors benefits can be tricky because each situation is unique. So if you're unsure whether you're eligible, contact the Social Security Administration.

Social Security benefits may make up a significant amount of your income in retirement, so it's smart to make sure you're earning every dollar you're entitled to. By claiming spousal, divorce, or survivors benefits, you can make the most of your monthly checks and enjoy retirement more comfortably.

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