How Much Social Security Can Spouses and Ex-Spouses Get in 2023?

If you’re married, your spouse could help you score a bigger Social Security check. Even if you’re divorced, your ex-spouse could help you land a higher benefit.

The reason: Social Security retirement benefits are based on your 35 highest-earning years of work. But if you qualify for spousal benefits, Social Security will base your benefit on your current or former spouse’s work record instead. Keep reading to learn how much you could squeeze out of spousal benefits in 2023.

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What’s the maximum spousal benefit in 2023?

The maximum spousal benefit is 50% of the other spouse’s full retirement age benefit. The maximum monthly Social Security retirement benefit at age 67 — that’s the full retirement age for anyone born after 1959 — is $3,808 in 2023. The maximum spousal benefit is 50% of that amount, or $1,904.

But it’s pretty unlikely you’d qualify for the full $1,904. For your spouse to get the maximum full retirement benefit of $3,808, he or she would need to have earned at least Social Security’s taxable maximum amount for 35 years. In 2023, this amount is $160,200, though it increases every year. Essentially, few people qualify for maximum Social Security benefits because only about 6% of workers earn more than the taxable maximum in any given year.

The average monthly benefit for retired workers is substantially less. In January, after the 2023 cost-of-living adjustment takes effect, it will be approximately $1,827. If your spouse or ex-spouse receives the average benefit, your maximum benefit would be $913.50 per month.

As with retirement benefits, spousal benefits are reduced when you start early. If you claim as soon as you become eligible at age 62, your maximum benefit would be just 32.5% of your spouse’s full benefit.

But if you’re claiming spousal benefits, your benefit will max out at your full retirement age. You won’t earn extra delayed retirement credits for waiting past your full retirement age. You’ll get the maximum benefit at age 67, assuming you were born in 1960 or later.

Who qualifies for spousal benefits?

To get spousal benefits, you need to be at least 62 or caring for your spouse’s child who’s younger than 16 or disabled. If you’re currently married, you need to have been married for at least a year. Your spouse must already be taking Social Security, as well.

If you’re divorced, you’ll only be eligible if your marriage lasted at least 10 years and you’ve been divorced for a two-year minimum. You’ll also need to be unmarried to collect Social Security based on an ex’s work record. While your ex-spouse needs to be eligible for Social Security — meaning your ex-spouse needs to be at least 62 and have a minimum of 40 work credits — he or she doesn’t actually need to be collecting it in order for you to take spousal benefits.

Will Social Security give me both benefits?

No. Social Security doesn’t allow you to double dip. You’ll get whichever is higher: your own retirement benefit or a spousal benefit, but not both. Taking spousal benefits may result in a higher benefit if your spouse substantially outearned you. But if you were employed for most of your adult years, your own retirement benefit will probably be higher than your spousal benefit. Even if your own retirement benefit is modest, it’s likely higher than 50% (or less) of your spouse’s benefit. That’s why only about 3% of Social Security beneficiaries receive spousal benefits.

Whether you’re expecting to receive your own Social Security or spousal benefits, consider creating a my Social Security account to estimate what your future benefits will be. If your checks will fall short, you may need to invest more, work longer so you can qualify for more money on your own record, and delay benefits for as long as possible.

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