Social Security benefits can be a lifeline for millions of retirees. However, only around half of U.S. adults say they know how to maximize their monthly checks, according to a 2022 survey from the Nationwide Retirement Institute.
There are many ways to make the most of Social Security, including working a few more years and claiming at the right age. But your marital status and family situation can also play a role, and there are a few groups of retirees who could be eligible for bigger checks.
1. Married couples
If you’re married to someone who is entitled to Social Security, you could qualify for spousal benefits.
With spousal benefits, you’ll receive a payment based on your partner’s work record. You don’t have to qualify for your own Social Security to receive spousal benefits, and you can collect these checks even if you’ve never worked at all.
The maximum you can receive is 50% of the amount your spouse is entitled to collect at their full retirement age (FRA). If you qualify for Social Security based on your own work record, you’ll only receive the higher of the two amounts — not both.
So, for example, say you’re entitled to $800 per month based on your work history, and your spouse qualifies for $2,000 per month at their FRA. In this case, your total benefit amount would be $1,000 per month.
2. Divorced spouses
Those who are divorced can also qualify for benefits based on an ex-spouse’s work record. You may be entitled to divorce benefits if you’re not currently married and your previous marriage lasted at least 10 years.
Like spousal benefits, the most you can receive in divorce benefits is 50% of the amount your ex-spouse is eligible for at their FRA. The same rules also apply if you’re entitled to Social Security based on your own work record.
Claiming benefits on an ex-spouse’s record will not affect their monthly payments or any spousal benefits their current partner may be receiving. However, if you’ve been divorced for less than two years, you’ll need to wait until your ex-spouse files for Social Security before you can begin claiming divorce benefits.
3. Surviving family members
If you were financially dependent on a loved one who passed away, you may be eligible for survivors benefits.
Survivors benefits are generally reserved for widows and widowers, but they’re also sometimes available for parents, children, divorced spouses, and other family members. The exact amount you’ll receive will depend on your unique situation, so if you believe you may qualify for survivors benefits, it’s best to contact the Social Security Administration.
Social Security benefits can be an integral source of income for many retirees, and the right strategy can make it easier to maximize your monthly payments. By taking advantage of all the benefits you’re entitled to, you can head into retirement as prepared as possible.
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