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— Photo by Dougal Waters/Getty Images

Every year, retirees pass up a whopping $10.1 billion in Social Security benefits—spousal benefits that most people don't even know they're entitled to. These benefits can increase your income and solve the big riddle that confronts so many of us when we first think about Social Security: whether to get immediate monthly income at 62 or wait and get a bigger check—maybe a lot bigger. If you hold off until you're 66—which the government considers Full Retirement Age (FRA) for people born from 1943 through 1954—the monthly benefit will be one-third larger than if you take it at 62. Wait until age 70 and the check will be 76 percent larger.

The longer you live, the more that will matter—and chances are, you'll live a long time. The average 65-year-old can expect roughly 20 more years of life. Among that same group, 41 percent of women and 28 percent of men will live to age 90—and half of those women will make it to 95, as will one-third of the men.

Fortunately, spousal benefits offer a way around the riddle. If you're married—or if you're divorced after ten years of marriage and haven't remarried—you can claim a benefit not only on your own work record but also on your spouse's. No, you can't collect those benefits simultaneously. In some instances, however, you can get them consecutively: you can file first to get a spousal benefit, and then later to get your own benefit after it has grown as big as possible.

To see how spousal benefits work, consider these sample situations.

Two-Income Couples
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