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Social Security News

Spousal and Survivor Benefits in Social Security Create Challenging Decisions

SSA PR specialist has advice on options for spouses and surviving beneficiaries

Spousal & Survivor

• What options do I have when it comes to receiving my own or my husband’s Social Security?

Do I have to wait until 62 to receive survivors benefits?

July 25, 2012 - Some of the most challenging questions about Social Security benefits involve the rights of those eligible for spousal or survivor benefits. Oscar Garcia, Public Affairs Specialist, Social Security Administration provides answers to a couple of the most common of these questions.


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What options do I have for Social Security benefits when it comes to receiving my own retirement or the benefits on my husband’s Social Security record?


If you are eligible for both your own retirement benefits and for benefits as a spouse, we always pay your own benefits first. If your benefits as a spouse are higher than your retirement benefits, you will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse benefit.

There is another option if you have reached your full retirement age, and are eligible for a spouse’s or ex-spouse’s benefit and your own retirement benefit, you may choose to receive only spouse’s benefits and continue accruing delayed retirement credits on your own Social Security record. You then may file for benefits later and receive a higher monthly benefit based on the effect of delayed retirement credits.

If spouses want to get Social Security retirement benefits before they reach full retirement age, the amount of the benefit is reduced. The amount of reduction depends on when the person reaches full retirement age. For example, if full retirement age is 66, a spouse can get 35 percent of the worker’s unreduced benefit at age 62. The amount of the benefit increases at later ages up to the maximum of 50 percent at full retirement age.

Spouse’s benefits are affected if you are receiving a pension based on work where you did not pay Social Security taxes.

Additional information on pensions from work not covered by Social Security can be found on the Social Security website by searching under the key words “Government Pension Offset”. You can also learn more about spouse’s benefits by using our Retirement Planner homepage for spouses at


Do I have to wait until I am 62 to receive survivors benefits?


No. The earliest a widow or widower can start receiving Social Security survivors benefits based on age is age 60. 

As a general rule, survivors benefits based on age will be about the same total Social Security benefits over a lifetime, whether they start early or at full survivors retirement age.

If monthly benefits start before full retirement age, the amount is smaller to take into account the longer period a person receives them. Widows or widowers benefits based on age can start any time between age 60 and full retirement age as a survivor.

If the benefits start before full retirement age, they are reduced a fraction of a percent for each month before full retirement age. If a person receives widow's or widower's benefits, and will qualify for a retirement benefit that is more than their survivors benefit, he or she can switch to their own retirement benefit as early as age 62 or as late as age 70.

The rules are complicated and vary depending on the situation, so talk to a Social Security representative about the options available. More information about survivors’ benefits is available at Just click on the blue tab “Survivors” at the top of the page.

About the author

Oscar Garcia is a Public Affairs Specialist with the Social Security Administration. You can direct your questions to him at: SSA, 411 Richland Hills Drive, San Antonio, Texas, 78245. You can also email him at

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