Q: Is there a limit to the amount of Social Security benefits payable to a couple?
A: This question is received so often that I routinely discuss it when teaching retirement seminars.
There is no marriage penalty, limit or other reduction when each member of a couple receives Social Security retirement based on their individual work records.
In other words, both people have worked, either as employee or self-employed, and receives Social Security retirement based on those earnings. Neither one is receiving benefits through the work record of the other.
Here, amounts payable to each member of the couple are determined separately based on their personal work records and ages when starting retirement. Amounts received by one do not affect what the other receives.
If personally eligible based on work history and age, both can receive the maximum Social Security retirement amount. This is $2,639 per month in 2016 for a person starting retirement exactly when reaching full retirement age.
If both people have similar earnings histories it is likely that each will separately receive his or her own, individual, retirement.
Sometimes both members of a couple can receive Social Security benefits through one work record instead of through their individual records. An example of this is when one member of a couple had low career earnings and is eligible for spousal benefits as husband or wife instead of, or with, their own personal retirement.
In this case, the amount received as a spouse is based on the work record of the person with the higher career earnings so those earnings limit the spousal amount.
Questions on Social Security applications ask about current or past marriages, if any. This is to help learn if you are eligible for benefits through the work record of another person or if they are eligible through yours.
Benefits paid to other family members through your work record, including to your spouse, do not decrease your own amount.
Estimate your personal retirement amount or learn about spousal benefits in the SSA Retirement Planner at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/.