Social Security benefits can potentially make or break retirement, so it's wise to ensure you're making the most of them.
One way to maximize your benefits is to double-check the types of Social Security you're eligible to receive. If you're married or divorced, you may be entitled to extra money each month. In some cases, you could receive several hundred, or even more than $1,000 per month in additional benefits.
What are spousal and divorce benefits?
Most workers are entitled to retirement benefits once they turn 62 years old. But if you're married or divorced, you could also qualify for spousal or divorce benefits -- even if you've never worked.
Of those who are entitled to spousal or divorce benefits, the average beneficiary collects around $795 per month, according to the Social Security Administration. But how much you'll receive depends on your and your spouse's or ex-spouse's work history.
The maximum amount you can collect with either of these types of benefits is half of the amount your spouse or ex-spouse receives at their full retirement age(FRA). For instance, if your spouse (or former spouse) will collect $1,500 per month at their FRA, the maximum you can receive is $750 per month in spousal or divorce benefits.
Can you collect retirement benefits and spousal benefits?
Even if you're already entitled to Social Security based on your own work record, you may still qualify for spousal or divorce benefits. However, your benefit amount must be less than what you'd receive based on your spouse's or ex-spouse's work record. Also, you'll only receive the higher of the two amounts -- not both amounts.
For example, say you're entitled to $500 per month in benefits based on your own work record. Let's also say your spouse will receive $2,000 per month at their FRA, so you could collect $1,000 per month in spousal benefits. In this scenario, you'd receive $1,000 per month.
Say, however, that you were entitled to $1,200 per month based on your own work. In this case, you would not qualify for spousal benefits at all because your benefit amount is higher than the $1,000 per month you could receive based on your spouse's record.
Do you qualify for spousal or divorce benefits?
To be eligible for spousal benefits, you must currently be married to someone who qualifies for Social Security benefits.
To receive divorce benefits, you can't currently be married, and your previous marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years. Also, if you've been divorced for less than two years, you must wait until your ex-spouse begins claiming his or her own benefits before you can file for divorce benefits.
In both cases, you must be at least 62 years old to file for benefits. To receive the maximum amount you're entitled to, however, you'll need to wait to file until your FRA -- which is age 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on the year you were born. Unlike traditional retirement benefits, you won't receive larger checks for delaying benefits past your FRA.
Social Security benefits can have a significant impact on your retirement, so it's a good idea to make sure you're earning every penny you're entitled to. By taking advantage of spousal or divorce benefits, you could collect more than you may think from Social Security.