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Can I collect spousal benefits if I earned my own Social Security benefit?

Technically, yes, you can receive both spousal benefits and your own retirement payment. As a practical matter, however, you'll get the higher of the two amounts, and no more.

That's because when you are eligible for two kinds of benefit, Social Security does not combine them but rather compares one to the other. If your retirement benefit is higher, you receive that amount. If the spousal benefit is larger, Social Security pays your retirement benefit first, then adds enough of your spousal benefit to make up the difference and match the higher amount.

The most you can collect in spousal benefits is 50 percent of your spouse’s monthly benefit at full retirement age (the age at which a person becomes eligible for 100 percent of the benefit calculated from their lifetime earnings). That might exceed your own retirement benefit if your spouse had a significantly higher income or spent a significantly longer time in the labor force.

Keep in mind

  • If you claim Social Security before your full retirement age, you are subject to “deemed filing.” This means that when you apply for retirement benefits, Social Security considers you to be filing for spousal benefits as well, if you are eligible for them. Under a law passed by Congress in 2015, everyone born after Jan. 1, 1954, is subject to deemed filing, regardless of the age at which they file.
  • You cannot collect benefits on the work record of a current spouse who has not yet filed for, or has suspended, his or her own retirement payment.

Published October 10, 2018

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