Social Security benefits are based on the average inflation adjusted earnings for up to 35 years of a worker’s average monthly earnings. The longer a Social Security participant works, and the more they earn (up to the maximum Social Security wage base), the higher their monthly benefit amount will be, up to certain limits. However, spouses, minors, and disabled individuals may be eligible to draw benefits on a worker’s record even if they have no work history themselves.
A spouse’s benefit may be equal to up to 50% of the worker’s benefit depending on the spouse’s age at retirement. In order for the spouse to receive benefits, the worker must have filed for his or her benefit and the spouse must be at least age 62 or have a qualifying child in his/her care. However, to qualify a spouse must have been married to the worker for at least 10 years or they must have had a child together. If a spouse is eligible for a retirement benefit based on their own earnings, they will receive the higher of the benefit from their record or spousal benefits.
Planning for Social Security can be complex and depends on each individual or couple’s circumstances. It is important to assess each unique situation and to understand the options available as it may affect the timing of when to claim one’s benefit, at what age, who first, and whether to claim spousal benefits or their own benefit.