A:

The amount of your Social Security spousal benefit depends on a number of factors, including your age, the maximum amount of your spouse's benefit and whether other benefits are available to you. The maximum amount you can claim is 50% of your spouse's full benefit.

Full Retirement Age

One of the most important factors in calculating spousal benefits is the age of both the beneficiary and the spouse. The maximum spousal benefit amount is dictated by the maximum benefit amount due to the beneficiary. If your claiming spouse is eligible to receive $1,000 per month at full retirement age, for example, your spousal benefit cannot be more than $500 per month.

If you have reached your full retirement age, you may be eligible to claim the maximum spousal benefit. You may claim Social Security spousal benefits as early as 62, but the amount of your benefit is reduced according to the number of months left until you reach full retirement age.

Full retirement age varies from 65 to 67, depending on your year of birth. For those born after 1960, full retirement age is 67. If your full retirement age is 67 and you choose to claim spousal benefits at 62, the maximum benefit you are eligible to receive is equal to 32.5% of your spouse's full benefit amount. This amount increases with each year of deferred benefit, up to the maximum 50% benefit at age 67.

Availability of Other Benefits

If you have never paid Social Security tax, claiming spousal benefits may be your only source of retirement income. However, if you are eligible to receive payments from a government pension or foreign employer not covered by Social Security, you may still be able to receive spousal benefits at a reduced rate.

In the case of government pensions received for jobs for which Social Security taxes are not withheld, the amount of your spousal benefits is reduced by two-thirds of the amount of your pension. Assume you are eligible to receive $800 in Social Security spousal benefits and $300 from a government pension each month. Your Social Security payment is reduced by 2/3 * $300, or $200, making your total benefit amount from all sources $900 per month, or ($800 - $200) + $300.

Maximizing Spousal Benefits

To claim spousal benefits, the primary beneficiary must be age 62 or older and have an active Social Security claim. One of the best ways to maximize the spousal benefit is to have the primary earner claim benefits early and then suspend payments to accrue additional credits.

Assume your spouse is the primary breadwinner. Upon reaching age 62, your spouse can file for Social Security benefits, thereby enabling you to claim spousal benefits if you are also 62 or older. Your spouse can then elect to have his own benefit payments suspended and continue working until full retirement age or older.

Social Security beneficiaries are required to begin taking payments by age 70, but deferring benefits until after full retirement age can result in an increased monthly payment. By applying for benefits early and then suspending payments, you can collect the maximum amount of spousal benefit now and your spouse can claim an increased benefit later.

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