Social Security Spouse Benefit Rate Versus Survivor Benefit Rate

If you receive a benefit because you are or were married to a worker covered under Social Security, it is important for you to know the difference between spouse’s benefits and survivor’s benefits rates of payment.

If you are currently married to a worker who has forty work credits and begins receiving Social Security retirement checks, Social Security will check when the claim is filed to see if there are any spouses or children who could receive benefits based on the worker’s record. We also check if the worker starts receiving SSDI (Social Security Disability Benefits).

A current spouse who is at least 62 or has a child under age 16 (or disabled before age 22) may be eligible for spouse’s benefits. A spouse can receive the greater of her own unreduced benefit or one-half of the worker’s full unreduced benefit. (Spouses younger than 62 who receive benefits because they are caring for the worker’s child receive 50 percent of the worker’s full amount.) If the spouse decides to start the benefit early at age 62, the benefit is reduced.  It does not revert back to the unreduced amount when the spouse reaches full retirement age. Divorced spouse’s may also be eligible for a benefit which does not affect the worker or the current spouse.

A spouse’s benefit is payable to a spouse of a living worker who is receiving either retirement or SSDI benefits. While the worker is alive, the payment amount is limited to one-half of the worker’s amount.

When the worker dies, survivor benefits may be available. The percentage of the worker’s amount being replaced for the widow or widower is higher than a spouse’s benefit. For example, the widow or widower of a worker who died when they had reached their own full retirement age would be 100 percent of the worker’s amount (unless the worker received reduced benefits and the widow or widower would then receive the same reduced amount the worker received).  (A spouse younger than age 60 receiving benefits because they are caring for the deceased worker receives 75 percent of the deceased worker’s amount.)  Visit this link to view a chart that shows what percentage a widow or widower would receive based on taking the benefit early:  www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/survivorchartred.html. (You must click on the highlighted term “full retirement age” and then on the year of birth of the widow or widower to locate the correct rate.) A disabled widow or widower can also receive benefits as early as age 50 if they meet our disability requirement.  They would receive seventy-one and one-half percent of the deceased worker’s full amount. (Surviving divorced widows or widowers may also be eligible for benefits.)

When a spouse receives benefits because of the worker, and the worker dies, the spouse receives an increase in the amount simply because the payment rate for a widow or widower is higher than the payment rate for the spouse of a living worker.  The surviving widow or widower needs to report the death of the worker to Social Security, so we can make any needed adjustments.

NOTE:  This post covers when the spouse, or widow, or widower is receiving benefits solely on the worker’s record.