Spouse wants to cash in on Social Security

Ask NJMoneyHelp

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Q. If a single woman who never worked at all marries an older man already collecting Social Security benefits, can she collect half of his Social Security benefit?
— Wife-to-be

A. There may be good news — depending on the specifics of your situation.

Social Security spousal benefits are available to a husband or wife even if the spouse has never worked at all.

Certain criteria must be met in order to collect, said Matthew DeFelice, a certified financial planner with U.S. Financial Services in Fairfield.

To qualify for spouse’s benefits, you must be at least 62 years of age, or any age and caring for a child who is younger than 16 or disabled who is entitled to receive benefits on your spouse’s record, he said.

“As a spouse, you can claim a Social Security benefit based on your own earnings record, or you can collect a spousal benefit that will provide you 50 percent of the amount of your spouse’s Social Security benefit as calculated at their full retirement age (FRA),” DeFelice said.

He said you should check the Social Security website to determine what your FRA is because it depends on your year of birth. If you file before you reach your own FRA, your spousal benefit will be reduced because you are filing early, he said.

You are automatically entitled to receive either a benefit based on your own earnings or a spousal benefit based on your spouse’s or ex-spouse’s earnings, DeFelice said.

Social Security does this calculation and will pay you the higher amount.

“But be aware – if your spouse takes Social Security early, and you take a spousal benefit early, you will be significantly reducing the benefits that may be paid out over your lifetime,” DeFelice said. “In either case, simply taking a spousal benefit does not reduce or change the amount your current spouse, ex-spouse, or ex-spouse’s current spouse may receive.”

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