Social Security benefits can go a long way in retirement, especially if your personal savings are falling short. It's wise, then, to make sure you're taking advantage of all the types of benefits you're eligible to collect.
Retirement benefits are the most common type of Social Security, but if you're married or divorced, you could be entitled to other types of benefits as well. In some cases, you could collect $800 or more per month from Social Security with zero effort -- even if you've never worked.
What are spousal and divorce benefits?
If you've worked and paid taxes for at least 10 years, you're generally eligible for retirement benefits based on your own work record. But if you haven't worked that long or only qualify for a small amount in retirement benefits, you could be entitled to spousal or divorce benefits.
With these types of benefits, you'll receive a monthly payment based on the earnings of your spouse or ex-spouse. In both cases, the maximum you can collect is 50% of the amount your spouse (or ex-spouse) can receive at their full retirement age (FRA).
The average benefit amount is around $1,657 per month, according to the Social Security Administration. If, for example, you're currently married and your partner is entitled to that amount at their FRA, you could receive up to $828 per month in spousal benefits.
Are you eligible for these benefits?
Not everyone qualifies for spousal and divorce benefits. To be eligible for spousal benefits, you must currently be married, and your spouse must be entitled to Social Security. You also must be at least 62 years old to begin claiming.
For divorce benefits, your previous marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years, and you cannot currently be married. If your ex-spouse has remarried, however, that won't impact your ability to claim divorce benefits on his or her work record.
Also, if you've been divorced for less than two years, you'll need to wait until your ex-spouse files for benefits before you can begin claiming.
How much can you receive?
If you're entitled to Social Security based on your own work record, you can still receive spousal or divorce benefits. However, your benefit amount must be less than what you'd receive in other types of benefits, and you'll only receive the higher of the two amounts.
For instance, say you'll receive $700 per month based on your own record, and your spouse is eligible for $2,000 per month at their FRA. In this case, you'd qualify for $1,000 per month in spousal benefits, so you'll receive $1,000 total per month -- not $1,700 per month. If you were receiving, say, $1,500 per month based on your own record, you wouldn't qualify for spousal benefits at all.
Finally, keep in mind that normal claiming rules still apply. To receive the maximum amount in spousal or divorce benefits, you'll need to wait until your FRA to file. If you claim before that age (as early as age 62), you'll receive a reduced benefit amount.
Making the most of Social Security
Social Security can be a lifeline in retirement, so it pays to make sure you're receiving all the benefits you're entitled to. Spousal and divorce benefits can boost your payments by hundreds of dollars per month, and by taking full advantage of them, you can set yourself up for a more comfortable retirement.