Around 90% of seniors age 65 and older collect Social Security benefits, and for millions, these monthly checks are a primary source of income.
While most people are familiar with retirement benefits (which you generally qualify for once you've worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years), these aren't the only benefits you may be entitled to receive.
If you're married or divorced, you may be eligible for additional money each month on top of your regular retirement benefits. In some cases, these benefits could boost your payments by hundreds of dollars per month.
Do you qualify for spousal or divorce benefits?
Spousal benefits are often available to those who are currently married to someone entitled to Social Security retirement or disability checks. As with retirement benefits, you also must be at least 62 years old to start taking spousal benefits.
Divorce benefits are similar, except they're based on the work record of a former spouse. To qualify, you cannot currently be married — but if your ex-spouse has remarried, you can still claim divorce benefits. You must also have been married for at least 10 years to be eligible for this type of Social Security.
With divorce benefits, you also generally need to wait until your ex-spouse files for Social Security, unless you've been divorced for at least two consecutive years.
How much can you receive each month?
For both types of benefits, the maximum you can collect is 50% of the amount your spouse or ex-spouse is entitled to at their full retirement age (FRA).
If you're also entitled to retirement benefits based on your own work history, you can still collect spousal or divorce benefits. However, you might receive smaller payments each month.
The highest total benefit you can collect is 50% of your spouse's or ex-spouse's FRA amount. If you're already earning more than that based on your own work record, you won't qualify for spousal or divorce benefits. If your benefit is smaller, you'll receive your benefit plus an additional payment to equal the higher amount.
So, for example, say you're entitled to $800 per month based on your own earnings, and your spouse will receive $2,000 per month at their FRA. In this case, the highest amount you can receive is $1,000 per month, so you'll receive your $800 monthly payments plus an extra $200 per month in spousal benefits.
Who is eligible for survivors benefits?
Survivors benefits are an additional type of Social Security available to those who were financially dependent on someone who passed away.
Widows and widowers are usually eligible for survivors benefits, and in many cases, you could receive the full benefit amount your spouse was receiving before they passed.
Sometimes, though, other family members — such as divorced spouses, parents, and children — are also entitled to survivors benefits. Whether or not you qualify (and how much you'll receive) will depend on your unique situation, so if you believe you may be entitled to these payments, it's best to contact your local Social Security office.
Social Security can be a lifeline for many retirees, and you may be entitled to more than you think. By taking advantage of every type of benefit you qualify for, you can head into retirement as prepared as possible.
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