Will My Spouse’s Earnings Lower My Social Security Benefits?

Q: Will my spouse’s earnings lower my Social Security benefits? 

A: When you receive Social Security benefits based on your own work record, earnings of your spouse will not reduce your benefits. To use a common situation, if you start your own Social Security retirement before your spouse, his or her ongoing earnings will not reduce your Social Security. Depending on your age and amount of earnings, if you continue to work the annual earnings test might affect your SSA benefits but earnings of your spouse will not. 

The annual earnings test, also called the retirement test, concerns how earnings from employment in a calendar year might affect your SSA benefits payable for that year. Dollar amounts of the earnings test usually change each year. Only gross wages or net income from self-employment count for the annual earnings test. Income from investments, interest, pensions, capital gains or other income does not.  Earnings of your spouse do not count towards your earnings limit but, if also receiving SSA retirement, will count towards his or her own earnings test limit. See “How Work Affects Your Benefits” at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10069.html. Different rules concerning your own employment earnings apply if you receive Social Security disability benefits. Contact Social Security for current information if working while receiving disability. 

I will come back to the question of spousal earnings but first let me emphasize the importance of knowing what type of Social Security benefits you receive since differences exist between them. The three basic benefit areas are retirement, survivors and disability but there are different benefits within each of these.  

Using Social Security retirement as an example, potentially someone could receive retirement through their own work record, through the work record of a spouse or even through the work record of a former spouse if divorced. Despite differences in eligibility requirements, all three of these are considered types of Social Security retirement. 

Now let’s return to the question of Will my spouse’s earnings affect my Social Security benefits? Above I wrote that they will not when you receive Social Security benefits based on your own work record. However, if you receive Social Security through the work record of your spouse, then his or her earnings might affect your benefits.  

For example, say your spouse receives SSA retirement and you receive benefits through his or her record. If your spouse is working and benefits to him or her must be reduced by the annual earnings test, your benefits will be reduced too even though you are not the one working. 

When in doubt, call the Social Security national toll-free number (1-800-772-1213 / TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask. Toll-free service is provided from 7:00am-7:00pm, local time, on standard business days.