Your spouse's Social Security benefits are determined when you file for retirement benefits and are based on your earnings. Your spouse must be at least 62 years of age to qualify for spousal benefits, or have a child under age 16 or a child receiving Social Security disability benefits.
Determining the Allowable Spousal Benefit
You must work until your full retirement age for your spouse to receive the full 50 percent spousal benefit, meaning the 50 percent of the monthly income you are eligible to receive. The full retirement age varies by birth year. A list of full time retirement ages can be found on the SSA website. If your spouse is eligible for her own retirement benefits based on her earnings, and if her benefits are greater than the spousal benefit, she will receive her own retirement money. You may test different scenarios and calculate the percentage of benefits you may receive using estimated retirement dates at the SSA website.
In the following example, if you were born between 1943 and 1954 with full retirement age at 66, you are eligible to receive $4,000 a month depending on your earnings. If you file for retirement benefits at 66, your spouse can receive the full 50 percent benefit, or $2,000 per month. If you file for retirement benefits at 65, your spouse will receive 45.84 percent of the $4,000, resulting in $1,834 per month. If you file for retirement at age 64, the spousal benefit will be further reduced to 41.67 percent, and your spouse will receive $1,667 per month.
Work until your full retirement age if possible to ensure the greatest spousal benefit. The earlier you retire, the smaller the spousal benefit.