5 Facts About Social Security You Should Know

Bob Stowe |

There are many rules surrounding Social Security and it can be easy to overlook something that can help you unlock maximum benefits for your retirement. Here are five aspects of Social Security that you may not be aware of:

#1 – Widows and Widowers

  • The surviving spouse can receive their deceased spouse’s or deceased ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits as early as age 60, which is sooner than the earliest individuals can claim their own benefit (age 62).
  • You may have to wait until reaching your full retirement age to claim 100% of the survivor benefits.  However, there is some flexibility when it comes to claiming benefits. For example, you could begin collecting survivor benefits and then switch to receiving Social Security benefits based on your own earnings later on, or vice versa.

#2 – Widows and Widowers with Minor Children

  • If your spouse has passed away and you currently raise one or more of their children under age 16, you can collect survivor benefits as their caregiver.
  • The benefit amount is up to 75% of the deceased parent’s basic Social Security benefit.
  • While every child under 16 is eligible, there is a family maximum of 180% of the deceased’s full benefit. Practically, the family max is reached once there are two children under 16 who receive benefits (75% for each child + the spouse’s benefit > 180%).
  • Once the child turns 16, the benefits end.

#3 – You Can Still Benefit from Your Divorced Spouse

  • For couples who had been married at least 10 years, you can collect a Social Security benefit based on up to half of your ex-spouse’s average earnings if you are 62 or older and the ex-spouse is entitled to collect retirement or disability benefits.
  • If you remarry you cannot collect benefits from the ex-spouse.  
  • Keep in mind if you are receiving retirement benefits on your own work record, you can also claim any ex-spousal benefits, but Social Security will not pay you both combined. You will receive whichever amount is higher and no more. 
  • Any benefits you receive as a divorced spouse do not affect Social Security benefits paid to your ex, or to their current spouse if they have remarried.

#4 – Benefits for Children

  • If you are retired or have a disability and are entitled to benefits, your children under 18 (or under 19 if a full-time student) are entitled to 50% of your benefit. This dependent benefit doesn’t decrease the amount of Social Security benefits that you can receive.
  • Under certain circumstances, benefits can include a stepchild, grandchild, step grandchild, or adopted child.

#5 – Claiming Early Reduces Spousal Benefits

  • Individuals who claimed their own Social Security benefit before their full-retirement age, willingly chose to start receiving a reduced benefit rather than waiting for their full-retirement benefit amount. What they might not have realized is that any future spousal benefits they could have received will now be reduced to as little as 32.5% (which is normally 50% of their spouse’s full benefit).
  • The reduction is calculated based on what age they claimed their benefit.