How Much Social Security Does a Nonworking Spouse Get?

Stay-at-home and nonworking spouses are entitled to Social Security retirement benefits. The amount varies, though.
Lee Huffman
By Lee Huffman 
Updated
Edited by Tina Orem

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Social Security retirement benefits provide monthly income in retirement for eligible workers. But what happens if you’re a stay-at-home parent or don’t work for pay outside the home? Social Security rules allow nonworking spouses to receive income based on a working spouse’s earnings record.

How much are Social Security benefits for nonworking spouses?

Social Security retirement benefits for a nonworking spouse typically equal up to 50% of the working spouse’s benefits. The percentage depends on when the nonworking spouse begins receiving benefits. It maxes out at full retirement age; the percentage does not increase by delaying benefits past full retirement age

.

Beware of taking Social Security retirement benefits too soon.

  • The Social Security Administration permanently reduces retirement benefits to nonworking spouses by 25/36 of one percent for every month (up to 36 months) before full retirement age that they start receiving benefits.

  • If the nonworking spouse retires more than 36 months before full retirement age, the Social Security Administration reduces the benefit by 5/12 of one percent for those extra months.

  • For these reasons, nonworking spouses who file at age 62 may get retirement benefits that equal just 32.5% of their working spouse’s benefits

    .

  • However, if the nonworking spouse cares for a qualifying child, the Social Security Administration doesn’t reduce benefits if retiring before reaching full retirement age

    .

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How does a nonworking spouse qualify for Social Security retirement benefits?

To receive Social Security retirement benefits, a nonworking spouse must meet the following criteria:

  • Be at least age 62. If the nonworking spouse cares for a qualifying child, they may be eligible to receive benefits before age 62. Qualifying children are kids under 16 or receiving their own Social Security disability benefits.

  • Be married for at least one continuous year (this rule is waived if the nonworking spouse is the parent of the working spouse’s child).

Can you collect both spousal benefits and your own retirement benefit?

Many stay-at-home or nonworking spouses have previous work histories that could produce their own Social Security retirement benefits. However, the size of those benefits depends on the worker’s wages, how many years they worked and when they claim retirement benefits.

In that case, nonworking spouses who qualify for Social Security retirement benefits based on their work records receive the higher of their own Social Security retirement benefit or the spousal benefit. They cannot collect both types of payments

.

Can a nonworking spouse get benefits if their working spouse hasn't yet filed for Social Security?

No. Social Security retirement benefits for nonworking spouses are not available until after the working spouse has filed for their benefits.

Can you qualify if you're divorced?

Yes, divorced nonworking spouses are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits based on their ex-spouse’s work record. To qualify, the former spouses must have been married to each other for at least 10 years (120 months) and divorced for two or more years. Additionally, a divorced nonworking spouse can only receive benefits if they remain unmarried

.

Your benefits do not affect your ex-spouse’s retirement benefits or their new spouse's benefits (if they remarried).

Can you receive benefits if your working spouse dies?

Yes, eligible married and divorced nonworking spouses qualify for Social Security survivor benefits even if their spouse or former spouse passes away before retirement. Survivor's benefits may be up to 100% of the deceased’s Social Security monthly payments

.

Surviving spouses can switch to their own retirement benefits as early as age 62 if their work history generates a higher payout.

The bottom line

If you’re a stay-at-home spouse, you may be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits based on your spouse’s work history. Those who worked typically receive the higher of their earned or spousal benefits. Nonworking spouses who apply for benefits before reaching full retirement age usually receive lower benefits. However, payments to nonworking spouses typically do not increase if they delay benefits beyond full retirement age.

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