Social Security: Maximizing Benefits for Spouses

Making the most out of Social Security benefits can be challenging, especially for couples. Did you know an average of almost 68 million Americans per month will receive a Social Security benefit, tallying about $1.5 trillion in benefits paid during the year? For many retirees, Social Security is a vital source of financial support.

However, many couples find it difficult to understand how to optimize their benefits. The rules and timing decisions can be confusing. They may have a lot of questions, such as how much social security does a non-working spouse gets. To address this, this blog is here to simplify things and help you and your spouse make smart choices about your Social Security benefits.

By understanding spousal benefits, retirement benefits, and eligibility rules, you can secure a more stable financial future together. Besides this, if you need help with tax preparation services in Texas (and beyond) and retirement planning services, we are here to help.

Social Security Benefits for Spouses

Spousal benefits are Social Security payments available to the spouse of a retired worker. These benefits can be up to 50% of the primary earner’s benefit if the spouse claims them at their full retirement age. For example, if your spouse is eligible to receive $2,000 per month at full retirement age, you could receive up to $1,000 per month as a spousal benefit.

Eligibility Criteria

You may have a lot of questions in your mind, like, Can I collect my husband’s Social Security before he retires? Or can my wife collect my Social Security while I’m alive? If so, read along to understand the rules and maximize your retirement strategy.

  1. Age Requirement: The spouse must be at least 62 years old to start receiving spousal benefits. However, if they claim before their full retirement age, the benefit amount will be reduced.
  2. Qualifying Child: If the spouse has a qualifying child in their care (a child under age 16 or a child who receives Social Security disability benefits), they may be eligible for spousal benefits regardless of their age.
  3. Primary Earner’s Filing Status: The primary earner must have already filed for their Social Security benefits. This means you cannot collect spousal benefits if your husband has not yet retired and filed for Social Security.
  4. Marriage Duration: The marriage duration requirements for claiming benefits are the same for both working spouses and those seeking social security for non-working spouse benefits. If you are divorced, you can still receive spousal benefits if the marriage lasted at least 10 years, you are currently unmarried, and you are at least 62 years old. Additionally, your ex-spouse must be eligible for Social Security benefits.

Individual vs. Spousal Benefits

It’s essential to understand the difference between your own Social Security benefits and spousal benefits:

  • Your Benefits: These are based on your work record and earnings over your lifetime. You can start claiming your benefits as early as age 62, but the amount will be reduced if you claim before your full retirement age.
  • Spousal Benefits: These are based on your spouse’s work record. You may receive up to 50% of your spouse’s full retirement age benefit if you claim at your full retirement age.

Choosing between your own benefits and spousal benefits can significantly impact your financial situation. Generally, you will receive the higher retirement benefits of the two amounts.

When and How to Maximize Spousal Benefits?

Learn the best times and methods to claim SS benefits for spouse to ensure you get the most out of your retirement.

  • Wait Until Full Retirement Age (FRA): Spouses can claim benefits once they reach age 62, but to receive the full benefit amount (50% of the worker’s full retirement benefit), they must wait until their own FRA, which is 66 or 67 depending on their birth year.​
  • Delay Beyond FRA: Your benefit will increase by 8% for each year that you delay claiming it after your FRA if you were born in 1943 or later. Waiting until you reach age 70 will yield the maximum benefit. There’s no reason to wait beyond age 70 because your benefits won’t increase any further.
  • Consider Both Spouses’ Benefits: If both spouses have worked and are eligible for their own Social Security benefits, it’s essential to compare the potential benefits. You can claim spousal benefits first and switch to your own benefits later if they are higher, especially if you delay your own benefits until age 70 to maximize the amount.
  • Impact of Early Retirement: If a spouse starts receiving benefits before their Full Retirement Age (FRA), the benefits are reduced. For instance, beginning at age 62 can reduce the spousal benefit to as low as 32.5% of the worker’s primary insurance amount. This reduction impacts the overall retirement financial strategy, potentially decreasing lifetime benefits​.
  • Special Considerations for Divorced Spouses: Divorced individuals can claim spousal benefits if they have been married for at least 10 years and haven’t remarried. They must be at least 62 years old, and their ex-spouse must be eligible for Social Security benefits. These benefits are available even if the ex-spouse hasn’t started claiming theirs, as long as the divorce occurred over two years ago​.

What Happens to Social Security Spousal Payments if a Spouse Dies?

Understand the necessary steps to take and the benefits you can receive through Social Security if your spouse passes away. This information is vital to ensuring you are fully prepared and supported during such challenging times.

  • Eligibility for Survivor Benefits: To qualify for survivor benefits, you must have been married to the deceased spouse for at least nine months. Exceptions to this rule include cases of accidental death or if the deceased spouse was in the military.
  • Age Requirements: You must be at least 60 years old to receive survivor benefits. If you are disabled, you can qualify for survivor benefits as early as age 50.
  • Benefit Amount: If your spouse dies, you can receive up to 100% of their Social Security benefit amount if you meet certain conditions. To receive the full 100%, you need to start claiming survivor benefits at your full retirement age (FRA). If you begin claiming before reaching your FRA, the benefit amount will be reduced. Additionally, if you are working and have not yet reached your FRA, your benefit may be further reduced.

Real-Life Scenario: Maximizing Social Security Benefits for David and Susan Thompson

At Hopkins CPA Firm, we helped David and Susan Thompson from Austin, Texas, plan their retirement. David is 66 years old, and Susan is 62 years old. Both have worked throughout their lives and are eligible for Social Security benefits based on their individual work records.

Here’s the strategy we recommended to maximize their benefits:

Action Details Benefit Amount
David Claims Benefits At age 66, David claims his Social Security benefits at his full retirement age (FRA). $2,000 per month
Susan Delays Benefits At age 62, Susan decides to wait until her FRA of 66 to claim her benefits to avoid any reduction in her payments. N/A
Susan Claims Spousal Benefits At age 66, Susan claims spousal benefits, which are up to 50% of David’s primary insurance amount (PIA). $1,000 per month
Switch to Own Benefits By delaying her own benefits until age 70, Susan’s benefits increase by 8% each year beyond her FRA. At age 70, she switches to her own benefits. Approximately $1,584 per month due to delayed credits

How We Did It?

  1. Initial Assessment: We reviewed David and Susan’s earnings records to determine their primary insurance amounts (PIAs).
  2. Strategic Planning: We discussed their retirement goals to devise a strategy to maximize their Social Security benefits.
  3. Detailed Calculations: We calculated the benefits for different claiming ages and strategies.
  4. Implementation: We guided David to claim his benefits at age 66, ensuring he received $2,000 per month.
  5. Monitoring and Adjusting: We advised Susan to delay her benefits until her FRA and then claim spousal benefits.
  6. Final Switch: At 70, we helped Susan switch from spousal benefits to her own benefits, maximizing her monthly income.


By following this strategy, David and Susan maximize their Social Security income. David receives $2,000 per month from age 66. Susan initially receives $1,000 per month in spousal benefits, starting at her FRA of 66. By delaying her own benefits until age 70, Susan increases her benefit amount to approximately $1,584 per month due to the delay credits. This ensures that both David and Susan secure higher monthly incomes throughout their retirement years.

Recent Social Security Policy Changes

Starting in 2024, Social Security benefits have increased by 3.2% due to the annual Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA).
This increase helps beneficiaries keep pace with rising living costs, raising the average retirement benefit by about $50 per month.

  • Impact on Spousal Benefits: Spousal benefits have also increased, providing more financial support to eligible spouses.
  • Changes in Earnings Limits: The earnings limit for those under full retirement age is now $21,240, with $1 deducted for every $2 earned over this limit. For those reaching full retirement age in 2024, the limit is $56,520, with $1 deducted for every $3 earned over this limit.
  • Disability Benefits: The maximum monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment in 2024 is $943 for individuals and $1,415 for couples, reflecting adjustments to help meet the needs of beneficiaries.
  • Online Services Enhancements: The SSA has improved its online services, making it easier to manage benefits.

Important Reminder for Surviving Spouses

A recent survey from the Nationwide Retirement Institute found that 44% of adults were unaware that, upon the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse would inherit the bigger Social Security benefit.

It’s essential to notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) of your spouse’s passing to begin the benefits process. You’ll also need to provide the necessary documentation, such as the death certificate, to the SSA to ensure you receive the benefits you’re entitled to.

Additionally, we provide support for resolving tax issues with options such as offer in compromise with the IRS, innocent spouse relief with the IRS, and penalty abatement with the IRS to secure your financial future and resolve any tax-related concerns.

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Joe Hopkins

Joe has 25+ years as a Certified Public Accountant licensed in the State of Texas and solving IRS problems. Current member with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), Texas Society of CPA’s (TSCPA), National Society of Accountants (NSA), Bachelor’s degree in accounting (BBA), Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Experience in a variety of industries as Controller, CFO and tax resolution issues for both business and personal tax cases.