On occasion we will post an answer to a question about Social Security that we have received. If you have your own question, put it into the comment section of this post and we will answer it as soon as possible.
Today’s question comes from Janel:
My husband and I have been together for over 20 years but married less than 10. Does a “legally separated” status or “married living separately” possibly allow each other to benefit from SSA spousal benefits? My husband was born in 1958; I am two years younger. At full retirement age, his estimated Social Security benefit is about $2400; mine is approximately $950.
Janel, if you have been married for at least one year, you are potentially eligible to receive some amount of spousal benefits. The 10-year rule to which you refer applies to divorced persons. To qualify for spousal benefits as an ex-spouse, you would need to have been married for at least 10 years (and divorced for at least 2 years. If your state recognizes common-law marriages, then “living together” can satisfy SSA’s marriage rules.
The amount of spousal benefits you might receive depends on the relative size of your husband’s FRA benefit and your FRA benefit. If your FRA benefit was zero, then you could receive one-half of your husband’s FRA benefit at your FRA; that is, $1250. However, you have benefits of your own. So, the SSA tops off your benefit of $950 with a spousal supplement of $300, bringing your total benefit up to $1250.
I used my firm’s software to analyze your case a bit further. I assume normal life expectancies of 82 for your husband and 86 for Janel. The analysis shows that you can maximize your lifetime benefits as a couple by doing the following. Janel claims her own benefit at age 62; she will receive $665 in reduced retirement benefits. She cannot claim spousal benefits until her husband claims his own benefit. My analysis indicates that’s he should claim at 69, receiving $2847 as a result of delayed retirement credits. At this point, Janel qualifies for her spousal supplement of $300 increasing her total benefit to $995. Since she will start receiving the spousal supplement after reaching her FRA, there is no early claiming penalty (as there was with her own benefit).
As a final point, the computer evaluation revealed that Janel could claim at any other age up to her FRA and suffer very little in terms of lost social security benefits. So, if she chooses to work past age 62 and the social security earnings penalty is significant for her, it may make sense to delay claiming her social security benefits.