Social Security Spousal Benefits Requirements
Deciding when to draw Social Security retirement benefits can impact the benefits your spouse is eligible to receive as well. After one spouse dies, the surviving spouse is entitled to the higher of the two spouses’ benefits. That means it’s best for a higher earning spouse to delay taking benefits for as long as possible, so that they can get the highest possible benefit, not only for themselves, but for their surviving spouse if they pass away first.
Based on actuarial studies, after a married couple reaches 65 years old, a majority of the time, one spouse will outlive the other by as much as 10 years. So the decision on who should file for benefits and when that should take place can have a major long-term impact on the income of a surviving spouse.
Spouses who never worked or have had low earnings throughout the course of their life are entitled to receive up to half of their spouse’s full retirement benefit. Depending on your personal situation, you may receive your own benefit or a blended amount of both you and your spouse’s benefit. Either way, you will receive a combination of benefits that gives you the highest possible amount.
One strategy often employed is for a spouse to take their spouse’s retirement benefit and delay taking their own benefit. By doing so, you can continue to accrue delayed retirement benefits which will result in a larger benefit amount when you file for your own retirement benefit.
Is my spouse eligible to receive social security spousal benefits?
Spouses are eligible to receive 50 percent of their spouse’s full retirement benefit if they wait until they reach full retirement age. If they apply for a spousal retirement benefit before that time, the amount is pro-rated, depending on the age at which the spouse applies. For example:
If a spouse applies for a spousal retirement benefit at age 62 and the full retirement benefit is age 67, the applicant will get 32.5 percent of the spousal benefit.
If a spouse applies for a spousal retirement benefit at age 62 and the full retirement benefit is age 65, the applicant will get 37.5 percent of the spousal benefit.
The benefit increases as ages go up, to a maximum of 50 percent at full retirement age. It should also be noted that only one spouse can apply for a “spouses benefit” when a couple is married.
In cases of divorce, the divorced spouse can get retirement benefits on the spouse’s record if the marriage lasted for at least 10 years. To collect this benefit, the spouse must be at least 62 years old and not married. That benefit does not impact the amount a spouse and their current married partner can get.
Social Security Benefits for Children
More than four million children receive Social Security benefits each month because one or both of their parents are disabled, deceased or retired.
These funds help stabilize families and children at a critical time in their lives, helping them to complete high school and give them a good start toward college or being able to work full time with a high school diploma.
Biological, adopted and dependent step-children are eligible to get benefits if they meet certain criteria:
- At least one parent who is disabled or retired and eligible for Social Security benefits.
- A parent who passed away after attaining enough work credits in a job where he or she paid Social Security taxes.
- The child must be unmarried and under age 18, or
- 18-19 years old and a full-time student who is in no higher than grade 12. College students are excluded.
- 18 years or older and disabled.
When a child meets these criteria and a parent begins receiving Social Security retirement benefits, the child may be eligible for up to half of the parent’s full benefit amount or 75 percent if the parent is deceased. However, there is a maximum amount per family that ranges from 150 to 180 percent of the parent’s full benefit amount. When payments exceed this threshold, each family member’s benefit is reduced proportionally until the total is equal to the maximum amount allowed for the family.
Survivor and death benefits
Wage earners depend on Social Security retirement benefits to help meet financial needs when they stop working, but sometimes these earners can pass away early and unexpectedly. When workers pay into Social Security, a majority goes to fund disability and retirement costs, but a portion of their taxes go toward survivors benefits as well.
When a worker passes away, some family members may be eligible for survivors benefits if the worker earned enough credits during their working lifetime. Eligible family members include widowed spouses who are 60 or older, 50 or older if they are disabled, or any age if caring for a child who is under 16 years old. Children of deceased workers are also eligible if they are not married and under 18 years old, or under 19 years old but still in school. If you’re divorced and you or your spouse pass away, the surviving spouse could be eligible for a widow(er)’s benefit as well.
If a worker has enough work credits when they pass away, Social Security will also make a one-time payment of $255. This payment can be made only if the spouse or child meet certain specified requirements.
To apply for survivor’s benefits, Social Security will need the following, either original copies or certified copies, from the issuing agency.
- Proof of death from a funeral home or a death certificate
- Social Security numbers for the applicant and the deceased person
- The applicant’s birth certificate
- Marriage license or divorce certificate
- Dependent children’s Social Security numbers and birth certificates
- The deceased person’s tax return or W-2 forms from the most recent year
- A bank and account number so that benefits can be deposited directly into your bank account.
How to Appeal a Social Security Claim that has been Denied.
Almost half of all Social Security benefit applications are denied. While the vast majority of these deal with disability benefits, sometimes retirement benefits are denied as well.
Some of the reasons why a retirement benefit application might be denied include:
- You have not accumulated enough work credits in your work life
- Your application has missing or incorrect information
- You submitted your application too early. You can’t apply until about four months before you turn 62.
- You are already receiving Social Security disability benefits. Retirement and disability payments serve the same purpose; to provide financial security when a person is not able to work any longer.
- If you are a surviving spouse, you do not meet the minimum age requirement or you got remarried before you turned 60.
If your benefit application is denied, you must submit an appeal within 60 days after you get a written notice from SSA. To start the appeal process, complete Form SSA-561-U2 Request for Reconsideration. Explain your reasons for seeking reconsideration and submit any additional documentation that will help you make your case to Social Security officials.
The Request for Reconsideration is the first of four possible levels of appeal for Social Security retirement benefits. It is an informal review of your application and in many instances, when new information is submitted or issues are clarified, this level of appeal can lead to a reinstatement or approval of benefits.
If the first level does not produce desired results, applicants can go to the second level of appeal which is a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. This is an independent review made outside the decision-making processes of Social Security.
If you are still not satisfied, you can take your case to the Social Security National Appeals Council in Washington, D.C.
The last level involves filing a lawsuit against the Social Security Administration in a Federal Court.
How Does Social Security Affect Medicare and My Retirement Benefits?
Although Medicare is a separate benefit offered by the government, it often times goes hand in hand with Social Security retirement benefits as a means of providing a financial safety net for retired workers.
Medicare is the government sponsored health insurance plan for people who are at least 65 years old. The only exceptions to this are the disabled or those who have permanent kidney failure, both of whom can get Medicare at any age.
Medicare is broken into four parts:
Medicare Part A – Hospital insurance that helps pay for in-patient hospital care and some follow-up services.
Medicare Part B – Medical insurance that helps pay for doctor’s services, outpatient hospital care and related medical services.
Medicare Part C – Medicare Advantage Plans allow people to combine Part A and Part B to get medical services from a single provider organization.
Medicare Part D – Prescription drug coverage helps pay for prescribed medications.
Medicare and Social Security benefits are linked in that when you turn 65 years old, your Part A Medicare hospital insurance begins automatically. If you live in the United States or U.S. territories, you’ll also be enrolled in Part B Medical insurance coverage as well.
Regardless of whether or not you’re getting Social Security benefits, you should sign up for Medicare about three months before your 65th birthday.
If you have limited financial resources, some states may be able to assist you with Medicare premiums and other related expenses, such as deductibles. Benefits will vary by state and it’s best to contact a local or state medical assistance agency or welfare office to get answers.
Social Security’s “Extra Help” program can assist with Part D prescription drug coverage for those people who have limited income. Social Security will help in determining eligibility, completing and processing applications and work with applicants to see if they can also be enrolled in Medicare Savings Programs. For more information, Social Security maintains a website at www.socialsecurity.gov/extrahelp
Paying taxes on your retirement benefits
Social Security retirement benefit recipients must pay Federal income taxes on their benefits. Due to personal income levels, about one-third of recipients actually have to pay some amount annually.
Each year, the Social Security Administration will mail recipients a Form SSA-1099 that shows the amount of benefits received during the preceding year. This form should be used to complete tax returns and help determine in any taxes are owed.
As a general rule, if you file as an individual and your combined income is between $25,000 and $34,000, you may have to pay taxes on up to 50 percent of your Social Security benefits. If your combined income is more than $34,000 you may be required to pay taxes on up to 85 percent of your benefits.
If you file a joint return and you and your spouse’s income is between $32,000 and $44,000, then 50 percent of your benefits may be taxed. If your combined income is about $44,000, then up to 85 percent of your benefits may be subject to income tax.
To assist with tax planning, Social Security can withhold Federal taxes throughout the year for benefit recipients which may be preferable to making quarterly estimated tax payments.
Direct Deposit: It’s the law!
Effective March 2013, a new law went into effect requiring that all Social Security benefits be paid electronically. This means benefits due to you are directly deposited into a bank account of your choosing. The change means a quicker delivery of benefits as well as being safer and more convenient for customers.
The U.S. Treasury administers the Direct Deposit program and can answer questions for customers who call their helpline at 1-800-333-1795. For information and to sign up for the electronic delivery of funds, go to the Go Direct website at https://fiscal.treasury.gov/GoDirect/
The Treasury will also grant waivers in rare instances. To request a waiver or for more information, call 1-855-290-1545.
How to contact the Social Security Administration
Phone: 1-800-772-1213 (automated 24 hours a day, live operators 7 am to 7 pm, Monday through Friday)
TTY number: 1-800-325-0778
E-mail: Fill out a contact form located at https://faq.ssa.gov/ics/support/ticketnewwizard.asp?style=classic