I’m married. Should I file with my spouse or on my own?

Because you can claim based on your spouse’s working record and at different ages, there’s a lot to consider. You need to form a game plan based on the two of you together, not as two individuals filing for Social Security. Think about the following:

  • Spousal benefits could substantially increase your Social Security income if:
    • Either you or your spouse don't work
    • Either you or your spouse have a limited work history
    • There's a large difference between your career earnings
  • If you or your spouse were born on or before January 1, 1954, you may be able to file a restricted application, allowing spousal benefits to be claimed, while your own benefit grows larger to be used sometime later
  • Planning for survivor benefits is important because you and your spouse’s filing decisions may significantly impact the income available for the surviving spouse

Filing basics

The following rules apply:

  • Eligible at 62
  • Married for at least one year
  • One spouse must file for the other to claim benefits
  • You’re eligible for up to 50% of your spouse’s benefits

I’m divorced. Am I eligible for Social Security benefits based on an ex-spouse’s record?

Yes, you are. You should consider the same things a married person would (indicated in the “I’m married…” section above). The big difference is certain rules apply:

  • Your marriage must have lasted more than 10 years
  • You must be currently unmarried

If your divorce was within the last two years, you have to wait for your ex-spouse to file for benefits before you can claim on their record. But if it’s more than two years, you can go ahead and file on their record.

Surviving spouses

With people living longer, there’s a high percentage that one spouse will outlive the other. In fact, for 75% of couples, one partner will outlive the other by at least 5 years; 50% will outlive the other by 10 or more years.1

With Social Security, when a spouse passes, the survivor inherits the larger of the two benefits. Here are the filing basics:

  • You must have been married for at least 9 months
  • Benefits can be taken as early as age 60*
  • Currently widowed or remarried after age 60
  • Up to 100% of spouse’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) including delayed retirement credits earned. PIA is just the term for the full benefit someone is set to receive at full retirement age.

Talk to your financial professional to get the best strategy for your situation.

LIMRA Retirement Income Reference Book, 2018.

*Filing from 60 and up (age 50 if disabled) to full retirement age will permanently reduce monthly survivor benefits, but not impact the survivor’s own benefits.