Social Security Questions? Ask a Social Security Expert
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A spouse can receive no more then 50% of the spouse's benefits but that percentage can be changed.
If a spouse qualifies for benefits on their own record, SSA will pay that amount first. If the benefit on their spouse’s record is higher, they will get an additional amount on their spouse’s record so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount. They would not get all their own and 50% of your's too.
Also the age when they apply is important. At full retirement age they would be allowed the 50% of the spouses but their own earnings record would still apply.
If she is at full retirement age and did not work, your wife should contact SSA to speak with an agent.
A spouse can choose to retire as early as age 62, but doing so may result in a benefit as little as 32.5 percent of the worker's primary insurance amount. A spousal benefit is reduced 25/36 of one percent for each month before normal retirement age, up to 36 months. If the number of months exceeds 36, then the benefit is further reduced 5/12 of one percent per month.
For a spouse who is not entitled to benefits on his or her own earnings record, this reduction factor is applied to the base spousal benefit, which is 50 percent of the worker's primary insurance amount. For example, if the worker's primary insurance amount is $1,600 and the worker's spouse chooses to begin receiving benefits 36 months before his or her normal retirement age, we first take 50 percent of $1,600 to get an $800 base spousal benefit. Then we compute the reduction factor, which is 36 times 25/36 of one percent, or 25 percent. Applying a 25 percent reduction to the $800 amount gives a spousal benefit of $600. Thus, in this case, the final spousal benefit is 37.5 percent of the primary insurance amount.
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