Episode 45: How do Social Security Spousal Benefits Work?

Published: May 13, 2021 | Updated on: May 13, 2021

Thank you for joining us for episode 45 of our Money Wisdom Question Series, where we answer common financial and retirement investment questions. Today’s question is, “How do Social Security spousal benefits work?”

I want to keep this simple with some concepts even though there are so many different claiming strategies. You should have your own Social Security analysis to decide how to take Social Security. This lets you coordinate Social Security just like your other accounts, which is important.

Pretend your Social Security benefits are an account. I’m married to Wendy. She has her account and I have mine. Then we have our other savings and investments. The key to getting Social Security choices and benefits correct is to look at it in the context of all your other savings, investments, and other pensions that you might have, not in a vacuum.

Social Security Spousal Benefit Example

I’ll use myself as an example for Social Security spousal benefits. I have been working and running this company for many years. We’ve been very fortunate that since our oldest boy, Brandon, was three years old, Wendy has not had to work outside the home. She’s done a great job being at home with the four boys while keeping up a wonderful home. Wendy hasn’t worked outside the home where an employer is paying into Social Security for her. If you look at her Social Security benefits, they’re very small. When you look at my Social Security benefits, I’m pretty much going to get the maximum. When we claim Social Security, I can claim my benefit, and then she can claim under my credits and get an additional 50% of my benefit.

If my benefit is going to be $3,000 a month and we both claim at the same age, let’s use age 67, her benefit could be 50% of that $3,000. It doesn’t take away from my benefit. We get my benefit, which is $3,000, and her 50% of my benefit, which is $1,500. If her benefit was higher, she would get her own benefit, but her benefit won’t be higher the way Social Security works right now.

Here’s how Social Security spousal benefits work. The highest earner will collect their own benefit. Then the spouse or partner of that high-income earner can get their own credits. They can claim against their own credits and get income OR they can claim 50% of their spouse’s income, whichever is greater.

Social Security Benefits If You’re Divorced

Another thing to understand is that if you were divorced, as long as you were married for 10 years, you can claim under your ex-spouse’s benefit. Reminder, when you claim under somebody else’s benefit, you’re not taking any of their money away, it’s just the way the Social Security system works.


Hopefully, this helps you understand how Social Security spousal benefits work. It does get a little more complicated. If you want a Social Security analysis that’s custom to your situation, go to a certified financial planner that’s also a fiduciary.

Thanks for joining me and I hope you found this information helpful!

P.S. If you enjoyed this topic and want to learn more, download your copy of, “Social Security: Understanding the Benefits“. 

P.P.S. Feel free to submit questions here for a chance to have them answered!