Never Worked? Here’s Your Chance to Claim Social Security, Anyway | Smart Change: Personal Finance

(Maurie Backmann)

Many people complain that they are required to pay social security contributions on their earnings. But those taxes have a purpose: to fund the program so it’s there for you once you’re ready to retire. In addition, by earning money and paying social security contributions on your earnings, you make yourself eligible for benefits once your work period is over.

But even if you’ve never worked and never paid a dime to Social Security, you might still qualify for benefits from the program. Here’s how.

Spouses receive special allowances

If you are married to someone who is eligible for Social Security benefits, you will usually be entitled to what are called spousal benefits. These have special rules that differ from regular benefits. But when all is said and done, they offer you the possibility of collecting Social Security, even if you never contributed to the program during your lifetime.

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The spousal benefit you can get will depend on what your spouse is eligible for. If your spouse is entitled to a monthly benefit worth $2,000, you will be in line for a $1,000 benefit, provided you wait until you reach full retirement age for yourself to register.

You cannot start receiving your monthly spousal allowance until your spouse has filed for social security. If your spouse decides to delay their application, you will have to wait.

Also, while delaying Social Security can increase your monthly benefit if you’re filing based on your own earnings, you can’t increase a spousal benefit by delaying claiming it after full retirement age. If you are entitled to all of your spousal benefits at age 67, you might as well register at that time.

Spousal benefits also apply to divorced persons

One of the advantages of spousal benefits is that you don’t have to be married to receive them. If you have been married to someone for 10 years or more and they are eligible for Social Security, you can claim spousal benefit on their file if you are divorced. And you usually don’t have to wait for your ex-spouse to apply for Social Security to get these benefits yourself.

A great option to fall back on

Spousal benefits allow people who have never worked to receive social security in retirement. But you may still want to apply for spousal benefits, even if you worked.

Let’s say your spouse has earned a high salary during his career and is therefore eligible for a monthly Social Security benefit of $2,500. In the meantime, let’s say you have a lower income, so the benefit you qualify for, based on your earnings history, is $1,100. In this case, you can choose to collect a spousal benefit instead of your own benefit, which would leave you with $1,250 per month.

To be clear, however, you cannot collect a spousal benefit in addition to your own benefit. The Social Security Administration won’t let you double down like that.

It pays to learn about Social Security spousal benefits if you’re concerned that you haven’t earned enough and paid enough Social Security taxes in your lifetime to qualify for retirement benefits. You may be surprised at how much revenue you can actually collect.

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