When you are thinking about getting married, Social Security retirement benefits are probably the last thing on your mind. If you are not fresh out of college, however, you need to think about this question: Will getting married affect an older American’s Social Security benefits?
Marriage could affect the amount of Social Security benefits you might get one day, depending on whether it is your first marriage and your age when you marry. Many people discover this fact too late, and then have to live with the consequences.
First Marriages and Social Security Retirement Benefits
If this is your first marriage, you can go back to thinking about the caterer, the cake and who to seat next to whom at the reception. Your first marriage does not change the amount of Social Security retirement benefits that you will eventually collect.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) will calculate the amount of your monthly Social Security check, by using the earnings from your 35 highest-earning years. Your spouse’s benefits will go through the same calculation process.
The only difference that the first marriage makes is that you could have two people in the same household who each get a Social Security retirement check one day, instead of one person, if you stayed single and lived alone. When you qualify for retirement benefits because of your work record and earnings history, the amount is the same, regardless of your marital status.
How Remarriage Can Affect Your Eligibility for Social Security Retirement Benefits
You could marry 12 times, and it would not change the amount of Social Security retirement benefits you will get based on your work record and earnings history. On the other hand, if you are counting on getting benefits because of your previous spouse’s work record and earnings history, you might be in for a shock if you remarry.
If your previous marriage ended because of death or divorce, you can usually start to collect survivor benefits when you turn 60, or at age 50 if you are disabled. A person in this situation who remarries before age 60 (or 50 if disabled) loses the right to get those survivor benefits. The only way to become eligible again under your previous spouse’s work record, is if your current spouse dies or you get divorced.
If you wait until after you turn 60 (or 50 if you are disabled) to remarry, you can still collect benefits using a deceased previous spouse’s work record. So, if you are, for example, 59 years old and not disabled (or 49 and disabled), you might want to wait a year before getting married again.
The rules are different, if your former spouse is still alive and your marriage ended by divorce. You lose the Social Security retirement benefits from the former spouse’s work record, if you marry at any age. You can become eligible again, if the subsequent spouse dies or you divorce. In other words, if you marry again when you are 99 years old, in this situation, you will lose your benefits linked to the former spouse.
AARP. “How does marriage affect Social Security benefits?” (accessed February 18, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/retirement/social-security/questions-answers/does-marriage-affect-social-security/