Social Security retirement benefits may be available through more than one source. You may use your own work history or the work history of a spouse. You may also use the work history of an ex-spouse. The Social Security Administration recommends that you apply for each benefit, and it will select the highest paying one for which you qualify. Both you and your ex-spouse must meet qualifications.
If you were married for at least 10 years and have been divorced for at least two years, you may be able to collect retirement benefits based on the work history of your ex-spouse if you did not remarry prior to age 60. For this to work, your spouse must be at least age 62, and benefits are based on full retirement age. Workers born between 1943 and 1954 reach full retirement age at 66. Workers born in 1960 reach full retirement age at 67. Those born between 1955 and 1959 reach full retirement age in two-month increments beyond age 66. A person born in 1955 must be 66 years and 2 months to reach full retirement age; a worker born in 1956 must be 66 years and 4 months of age.
Spouse Must Qualify
If you apply for Social Security retirement benefits based on an ex-spouse or spouse’s work history, that person must qualify for Social Security benefits. An ex-spouse does not have to apply for benefits, but must have at least 10 years or 40 credits of work history and be at least age 62. A current spouse must apply and qualify for benefits before you can receive benefits on his work history. He may file and suspend his benefits, so he does not have to collect them.
Age 62 is the earliest you may collect Social Security retirement benefits under any work history. If you are age 62 and your ex-spouse is age 62 or older, you may be able to collect benefits based on his work history if his benefits are more than yours. You receive a combination of your benefits plus his benefits to total the higher amount, or you can choose to receive just his benefit. Social Security reduces any benefit from your ex-spouse to 50 percent of his benefit at full retirement age and further reduces it because you are taking early retirement. Your benefit at age 62 based on your ex-spouse’s work history is about 35 percent of his benefit at full retirement age. Earnings may also affect your benefits if you make more than $14,160 in 2011.
Full Retirement Age
Once you reach full retirement age, you can collect Social Security benefits on your own work history, or you may continue to receive a portion of your ex-spouse’s benefits while your benefits continue to accrue. Alternatively, you may choose to collect benefits based on a current spouse. You can wait until age 70 to take your Social Security benefits if you choose. Social Security stops adding to benefits at that age.