Dear Liz: I started my Social Security benefits at 66 and am now 70. I was married for 23 years and have not remarried.
When I ask about spousal benefits, I am told that my own monthly benefit is too high to get benefits based on my ex’s work record. My monthly benefit is only $1,509, my 401(k) has tanked, and I am surviving on less and less available part-time work.
I was told further that I can apply once my ex passes away and then it won’t matter how high my income is. Could that be correct? What is the exact cut-off amount to get spousal benefits?
Answer: Many people misunderstand the way spousal benefits work, and they think that they can get an additional check on top of their own retirement benefit. That’s not quite how it works.
Essentially, Social Security compares the amount of your retirement benefit with what you would get as a spouse or divorced spouse and gives you the larger of the two. Spousal benefits are up to half of what your spouse or ex receives.
If your ex’s benefit is $2,000 a month, for example, your spousal benefit could be $1,000, which is less than you’re getting now. If your ex dies, however, you can apply for a survivor benefit that equals what he or she received — in this example, $2,000 a month.