Social Security benefits can go a long way toward helping you enjoy a more comfortable retirement, but it can be tough to pay the bills with your benefits alone.
The average retiree receives around $1,500 per month in benefits, according to the Social Security Administration. That comes out to roughly $18,000 per year, and unless you have a lot of money saved in your retirement fund, it can be challenging to make ends meet.
Fortunately, you may be entitled to more money in benefits than you think. If you're married or divorced, you might be eligible to collect extra cash in spousal or divorce benefits.
What are spousal benefits?
If you're currently married to someone who is entitled to collect Social Security benefits, you may be eligible for spousal benefits based on his or her work record.
The most you can collect in spousal benefits is half of the amount your spouse will receive at his or her full retirement age (FRA). So, for example, if your spouse will collect $2,000 per month at his or her FRA, the maximum amount you can receive in spousal benefits is half of that, or $1,000 per month.
If you're collecting more than that in benefits based on your own work record, you don't qualify for spousal benefits. But if your benefit amount is less than what you'd receive in spousal benefits, you'll receive the higher of the two amounts. That means if you're earning, say, $800 per month based on your own work record and you're eligible to receive $1,000 per month in spousal benefits, you'll receive $1,000 per month -- not $1,800 per month.
What are divorce benefits?
Divorce benefits are similar to spousal benefits in many ways, but there's one key difference -- you cannot currently be married.
To qualify for divorce benefits, your previous marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years. If your ex-spouse has remarried, that won't affect your ability to collect divorce benefits. Claiming divorce benefits also will not prevent your ex-spouse's current partner from claiming spousal benefits.
As with spousal benefits, the most you can collect is 50% of the amount your ex-spouse is entitled to receive at his or her FRA. Also, if you've been divorced for less than two years, you'll need to wait until your spouse files for Social Security before you can begin receiving divorce benefits.
Creating a Social Security strategy
As you're preparing to claim benefits, it's a good idea to think about how spousal or divorce benefits will affect your strategy.
First, figure out whether you're eligible for either of these types of benefits. You can also check your estimated benefit amount online by creating a mySocialSecurity account, which will give you an idea of how much you're entitled to based on your real earnings.
Next, decide what age you want to claim. The only way to receive the full benefit amount you're entitled to is to wait until your FRA to claim. The same is true for spousal and divorce benefits, so if you claim Social Security early, expect to receive smaller checks each month.
Social Security benefits can make retirement more affordable, and if you're married or divorced, you may be entitled to additional money each month. By taking advantage of these types of benefits, you can enjoy your senior years more comfortably.