A confused Social Security beneficiary recently got lectured about the difference between spousal and survivor benefits in a Q&A portion of a page owned by a finance expert.
In a question posed by an 82-year-old anonymous Social Security beneficiary, he asked Liz Weston about getting the same benefits as the higher SS beneficiary in the family. He also shared that he has called Social Security about it but the agent who handled his inquiry simply said he has to receive spousal benefits that are at most half of his wife’s before he can qualify for the benefit in question. When he inquired about the particular insurance clause, he said that the agent hung up on him.
In her response, Weston had said that the agent had been correct in saying the policies for the spousal benefit. She also clarified that survivor and spousal benefits are two different privileges.
She said that the spousal benefits are enjoyed by the lower beneficiary if he or she is receiving the equivalent of at most 50% of the spouse’s “primary insurance amount” while the spouse is alive. She also clarified that in the event that one of the spouse dies, the living partner will then get the survivor benefit instead of the spousal benefit.
To address the man’s inquiry, Weston said, “The only time you would get the same amount as your wife is if she died, and at that point you would get only the survivor benefit (one check for $1,400, instead of the two checks totaling $2,186 you receive now as a couple).”
Weston concluded her advice, saying, “If your retirement benefit is larger than that spousal benefit amount, you would get your own benefit rather than the spousal benefit.”
The full details of the inquiry can be read below: “Dear Liz: I am 82 and receive $786 from Social Security. My wife is 75 and receives $1,400 from Social Security. I believe you said that a lower beneficiary could get the same amount as the higher beneficiary. When I contacted Social Security, I was informed that my benefit needed to be less than half of my spouse’s in order to qualify. When I asked him where in the regulations I could find that information, he abruptly hung up. Was he right?”
In response, Liz Weston said: “Yes. The only time you would get the same amount as your wife is if she died, and at that point you would get only the survivor benefit (one check for $1,400, instead of the two checks totaling $2,186 you receive now as a couple).
Survivor benefits are different from spousal benefits. Spousal benefits are what you might receive while your wife is alive. Spousal benefits can be as much as 50% of the higher earner’s “primary insurance amount,” or what she was entitled to at her full retirement age. If your retirement benefit is larger than that spousal benefit amount, you would get your own benefit rather than the spousal benefit.
The Social Security site has plenty of information on how benefits work as well as calculators to help you estimate your benefits. You can start by reading its publication titled “Retirement Benefits” at https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10035.pdf.”