Q&A: Can a teacher get Social Security spousal benefits?

Dear Liz: I’m 54 and will be eligible for a Social Security retirement benefit in eight years but plan to wait at least until age 67 to claim it. My wife is 60 and is a teacher, so she won’t be eligible for a primary benefit. But what about spousal benefits? Would I qualify for one as my wife’s spouse? Would she qualify for a spousal benefit from me?

Answer: You won’t be able to claim a spousal benefit if your wife hasn’t earned her own Social Security benefit. (Many teaching jobs don’t pay into Social Security but instead have their own pension plans.)

Because you’ve paid into Social Security, your wife may qualify for a spousal benefit based on your earnings record, with two important caveats. The first is that you must be receiving your own Social Security benefit before she can apply for a spousal benefit. The other is that if she receives a teacher’s pension, Social Security’s “government pension offset” rules would reduce any spousal or survival benefit she might receive by two-thirds of the amount of her pension. If two-thirds of her pension is greater than the amount of her Social Security benefit, her benefit would be reduced to zero.

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