Rules for Claiming Social Security Benefits

They can be tricky.

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Navigating the rules and options for drawing Social Security benefits is tricky. Married couples have the option of drawing their own benefit or 50% of their spouses benefit. The maximum spousal benefit while both you and your spouse are living is 50% of your spouse’s benefit at their Full Retirement Age (usually 66 or 67). To claim the maximum spousal benefit, you must also be at Full Retirement Age.

This may apply even if you divorce. You may be able to collect Social Security benefits on a prior marriage, as long as you were married for at least 10 years. There is no requirement to wait until your former spouse begins drawing benefits to claim spousal benefits. As long as you and your former spouse are ages 62 and older and you have been divorced for at least two years, you can begin drawing benefits (although benefits are reduced when drawing before Full Retirement Age).

You can even draw benefits on an ex-spouse who is deceased, as a survivor benefit. The amount is 100% of the ex-spouse’s benefit and can be claimed as early as age 60. However, benefits claimed before Full Retirement Age are reduced even for survivors.

Keep in mind you can always draw benefits based on your own record. One strategy may be to draw benefits based on your ex-spouse as early as age 62 and allow your own benefit to grow. You will have the option to switch to drawing your own benefit at any time. Waiting to switch to your personal benefit until you reach age 70 would allow your benefit to grow to its maximum value.

You generally forfeit the Social Security benefits of your prior spouse when you remarry. If the second marriage ends (either through divorce or death), you may become re-entitled to the benefits based on your first marriage. However, you cannot claim benefits on two spouses at the same time.

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