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Social Security and You: There Is No Marriage Penalty With Social Security

Tom Margenau on

I frequently hear from readers who ask me about an alleged marriage penalty associated with Social Security. Or they say they heard there is a maximum amount that can be paid to members of a married couple. These rumors are untrue. Today's emails illustrate what I am talking about.

Q: I am living with a woman and have been for many years. We each get our own Social Security check. The reason we have never gotten married is that we heard our Social Security benefits will be cut if we tie the knot. Is this true?

A: It is not true. When we are talking about your own Social Security retirement benefits, there is no marriage penalty under Social Security law.

Q: I am a 72-year-old woman. I get $2,175 per month in Social Security retirement benefits, which I took at age 66. I have been seeing a man who also gets his own Social Security check. It is $2,590. I've been told that if we get married, my benefit will be cut to a spousal rate of one half of his, or $1,295. Is this true?

A: No, it is not true. You are getting your own Social Security check that you worked for and earned. Your benefit will stay the same whether you are single, divorced, married or whatever.

Now, let's say your own Social Security retirement benefit was only $1,000 per month. If you married this guy, you would get bumped up to the higher spousal rate of $1,295. In other words, you would keep getting your $1,000 retirement benefit, and then you'd start getting an extra $295 per month in spousal benefits.

 

Q: Both my wife and I have had lucrative careers. I am about to turn my full retirement age and expect to get a Social Security benefit of $3,095 per month. My wife will reach her FRA in two years. She is supposed to get about $2,990 from Social Security. But we were reading that there is a maximum amount that can be paid to a married couple. I think it's called the family maximum. So how does that work? And if we exceed the maximum, whose benefit gets cut -- mine or my wife's?

A: There is no maximum amount that can be paid to a married couple. So if you are due $3,095 and your wife is due $2,990, you will get combined benefits totaling $6,085 per month.

The family maximum stuff you read about applies to cases involving Social Security benefits to families with children. This usually occurs in survivor benefit situations, but also happens when paying benefits to a disabled person and his or her family. It rarely happens in retirement cases because retirees usually do not have minor children living at home.

Here is an example. Let's say that Jerry died and left a young widow and five children. Each one of those six survivors is technically due an amount equal to 75% of Jerry's basic Social Security benefit. But the law sets a limit of how much can be paid to a family with children. It's called the family maximum. The family maximum formula is really complicated. But generally, it ends up at about 188% of the basic benefit. In other words, total benefits paid to Jerry's family would be limited to about 188% of his basic benefit rate.

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