Social Security for Military SpousesUpdated: March 31, 2020
Social Security is a retirement benefit paid to those who are at least 61 years and nine months or older who apply for the benefit with the Social Security office. There is a “full retirement age” that offers the maximum benefit payable, and this age will vary depending on when you were born. Full retirement age may be anywhere from age 66 to age 70.
Those who apply before full retirement age will still get paid a benefit, but it may be substantially reduced depending on how close you are to the full retirement age at application time. You can start getting Social Security between the ages of 62 and 70. Your benefits can be reduced by applying too early or continuing to work while receiving SS benefits.
Once you begin receiving Social Security, the current program rules state the benefit is available for life. Calculating your realistic life span is an important part of claiming your benefits at the best time for you.
As the Social Security official site points out, many people will exceed the life expectancy for the average retiree, so it is crucial to know the consequences of applying for your Social Security retirement benefits too early.
Those married to military members may wonder what kind of Social Security benefits they may be entitled to based on their status as a military spouse. The truth is that Social Security benefits for spouses apply no matter what their designation may be aside from being a spouse; civilian and military spouses alike are able to access certain Social Security benefits offered to spouses who qualify.
Military Service And Social Security
Those who serve in today’s military pay into Social Security as part of their regular paycheck deductions. The Social Security Administration official site reminds those in uniform that while serving they pay Social Security taxes the same way that civilian workers do. To become eligible for Social Security benefits, workers are required to earn credits.
How many credits do you need to qualify for benefits? It all depends on your age and the kind of benefits you are eligible for at the time of application. According to the Social Security Administration, no worker needs more than 10 years of work or 40 Social Security credits.
Spouse Benefits Under Social Security
What the Social Security Administration describes as “spousal benefits” permit a husband or wife to claim as much as 50 percent of the spouse’s Social Security benefits. This is true even if the military spouse has never been employed or hasn’t worked long enough to personally qualify for SS benefits.
But there are qualifying criteria for this and these benefits are not automatic. Married couples must meet the following requirements:
- The person claiming spousal benefits must be 62 or older.
- The spouse (not the person making the spousal benefits claim) must be eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits.
- The spouse (not the one making the claim) must have already applied for those benefits.
It is true that you are able to start claiming Social Security benefits starting at age 62, but at a reduced amount that will not be increased once retirement age is reached. Under spousal benefits, a spouse can reach “full retirement age” (which is a requirement that varies depending on when you were born) and apply for something known as a “restricted application” for spousal benefits.
Once approved, the spouse may draw those spousal benefits until reaching age 70 when one’s own Social Security benefits max out. Then the applicant can file another form to start receiving their own Social Security benefits instead.
Qualifying For The Spouse Social Security Benefit
Applicants for Spouse Social Security benefits must be married for at least one year prior to the application. However, those marrying the “natural mother or father of your child” are eligible for a waiver of the one-year requirement.
A waiver is also possible if the applicant is entitled to SS benefits via another person’s work record the month before the marriage. Divorced spouses who are unremarried may be eligible for the spousal benefit if the marriage lasted 10 years or more.
How Much You May Qualify For Under Spousal Benefits
The Social Security Administration says that even if a spouse has benefits of their own, the spousal benefit may be paid instead when it is the higher dollar amount. This is also true of working spouses who have a lower benefit amount than the other spouse. Some applicants for this benefit have never worked a job or earned income; spousal benefits apply in these cases.
Qualified applicants may be able to claim up to 50% of the higher wage-earner’s SS benefits. The Social Security Administration will never pay more than half, but you may be entitled to less if you apply too early.
“Depending on how old you are when you file,” the Social Security official site says, “the spousal benefit amount will range between 32.5% and 50% of the higher-earning spouse’s full retirement benefit.”
Divorce And Spousal Benefits
Couples who were married for ten years or more (and divorced for two years or more) may also qualify for spousal benefits. In this case, a divorcee is not required to wait for the ex-spouse to file for benefits. It is permitted to file for spousal benefits at age 62 whether the spouse has applied or not.
The one caveat to this is that the former spouse must also be age 62 or older at the time of filing. Any time you apply for Social Security benefits in this area before full retirement age may result in a reduced benefit payment.
Things To Remember About Spouse Benefits
The benefits described here are not considered Survivor’s Benefits, which is a different class of Social Security benefit.
If you are eligible for Social Security Spousal Benefits, you may also be able to qualify for free premium Part A Medicare once you turn 65, but this is true only if your spouse is at least 62 years old at application time.
Those who are married and in a situation where the spouse claiming benefits is three years older than the other spouse may find a waiting period applies-a period where payments are required for Medicaid. The free Medicaid Part A benefit won’t begin until the other spouse is 62 years old.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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