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

Technically, yes, you can receive both benefits on your spouse's earnings record 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. ​​

Spousal benefits are based on your mate’s full benefit — the amount they are entitled to receive from Social Security at full retirement age, or FRA (currently between 66 and 67). You can claim them as early as age 62, but like retirement benefits, they get bigger if you wait, ranging from 32.5 percent of your spouse’s full benefit amount if you file at the minimum age to 50 percent if you claim at your own FRA. ​​

That proportional calculation means a spousal benefit will only 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 were born after Jan. 1, 1954, you are subject to the “deemed filing” rule: When you apply for retirement benefits, Social Security deems you to be filing for spousal benefits as well, if you are eligible for them. You'll receive the higher benefit amount. ​​
  • Collecting a benefit on your spouse’s earnings record does not change what they receive from Social Security. ​​
  • You cannot collect benefits on the record of a current spouse who has not yet filed for, or has suspended, his or her own retirement payment. 

Updated September 30, 2022