Q & A

Ask Rusty – Why Isn’t My Wife Getting Half of My Benefit?

Dear Rusty:  My wife isn’t getting half of my Social Security benefit amount. Shouldn’t she be?  Signed: Feeling Cheated

Dear Feeling Cheated: A spouse does not always receive 50% of the husband’s Social Security benefit, because it depends on the age at which both of you claimed Social Security, and whether your wife was entitled to benefits from her own lifetime work record. If your wife is entitled to Social Security on her own work record and claimed that before she reached her full retirement age (FRA), she would never get half of your benefit amount as your spouse because she claimed her own benefit early. Your wife’s spousal benefit consists of both her own benefit and a “spousal boost,” so claiming her own reduced benefit early would also result in a lower spousal benefit. Her spousal boost, which was based upon her full retirement age (FRA) benefit amount compared to half of your FRA benefit amount, will also be reduced if she claimed the spouse benefit before her full retirement age.

If your wife wasn’t entitled to her own benefit (from her own lifetime work record), but instead claimed her spouse benefit from you before reaching her FRA, her spouse benefit would be permanently reduced, again because she claimed it before her full retirement age. A basic Social Security rule is that any time any Social Security benefit is claimed before full retirement age, that benefit is permanently reduced.

The spouse benefit is based upon each spouse’s benefit amount at their full retirement age. So, for example, if you delayed beyond your FRA to get a higher personal benefit for yourself, your wife’s spousal benefit would still be based upon your FRA benefit amount, not the increased amount you received by delaying past your FRA to claim. Which would again mean a spousal benefit which is less than 50% of your actual benefit.

So, as you can see, a spouse doesn’t always get half of the higher earning spouse’s Social Security benefit. Your wife’s benefit will be less than 50% of your FRA benefit if she took any SS benefit before reaching her full retirement age. And it will also be less than half of the benefit you are now receiving if you delayed past your own FRA to claim a higher benefit for yourself.

This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or email us at ssadvisor@amacfoundation.org.

Comments On This Topic

  1. My spouse is receiving $160.oo per month for the few years she worked. She started receiving benefits well after her 65th. birthday We married on November last year and presented our marriage license and credentials to the Social Security Office near home. The Social Security clerk updated our records and said that my wife will receive her new benefits automatically after one year of marriage. Over one year has passed since then with no response from the Social Security so far. Could you explain, please?

    • Nelson,

      You state your spouse applied for own Social Security benefits well after she turned 65, does this mean she was born on or before January 1st, 1954? If she was, it would appear you may have been told incorrectly. When a spouse is born on or before January 1st, 1954, he/she has to apply for their spousal benefit, as it will not begin automatically. As you were married in November 2019, she would have become eligible for spousal benefits as of November 2020, first payment to be received in December 2020. There is a different set of rules for spouses born on January 2nd, 1954 or later, they do receive their spousal benefit automatically and do not need to apply.

      Whichever is your spouse’s situation I recommend you have her call your local Social Security office about her spousal benefit. Please use the following Social Security Office locator to contact your local office: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp

      ​Please contact me if you have further questions.

      Sharon L Kleczka RSSA®
      National Social Security Advisor/Registered Social Security Analyst

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