The Social Security Act of 1935, although amended several times since its inception, provides individuals retirement benefits based on their levels of lifetime earnings. Wives may apply to receive retirement benefits based on their husbands' earnings, even if they have retirement plans of their own. The process to claim spousal benefits requires age eligibility and proof of marriage, among other elements of the application process.
Certain eligibility requirements must be met in order to file for retirement benefits from Social Security. The applicant must be considered retirement age, which varies by date of birth. Most individuals can retire between the ages of 65 to 67 with full benefits. For example, someone born in 1955 is considered at full retirement age at 66 years and 2 months; but, someone born in 1959 isn't full retirement age until she is 66 years and 10 months old. Early retirement may be taken as early as age 62, with discounted benefits available. Additionally, an applicant must have earned at least 40 credits (equal to 10 full years of work) in order to be qualified to claim retirement benefits.
Filing for Spousal Benefits
A wife may apply for retirement based on her husband's benefits, as long as he has already filed. She must be at least 62 years of age, the minimum age to file for early retirement, in order to qualify. At full retirement age, a wife can expect to receive 50 percent of her husband's benefit amount. Retiring at a younger age decreases the retirement benefit even more. Applications may be made online, over the telephone or in person at a service center. Several documents are required for the application process and include copies of W-2 forms, original copy of marriage certificate and an original copy of the wife's birth certificate. Proof of citizenship may be required, too. Several questions regarding the wife's employment history and other details will be asked during the application process.
Meeting the Earnings Test
The earnings test applies for a retiree who may still be working a part- or full-time job but also wishes to file for retirement benefits. The Social Security Administration allows for a retiree to earn a certain amount of wages without it affecting her benefits. For retirees below full retirement age in 2012, the maximum amount of money one can earn in a year is $14,640. For every $2 a person receives over this amount, she will lose $1 in benefits. (Example: A woman earns $15,000. That is $360 over the limit. She will lose $180 in benefits over the course of a year.) If a wife reaches full retirement age, the maximum amount she can make in a year is $38,880. For every $3 earned over the limit, the recipient will lose $1 in benefits. Earnings do not include pension benefits, IRA residuals, lottery winnings or interest or investment income. Only wages or self-employment income applies.
Government Pension Offset
One exemption to this process does apply. A wife who previously held a government job where she did not pay into Social Security will have her Social Security benefits affected by the Government Pension Offset (GPO). The GPO is two-thirds of the amount of government pension she receives. For instance, if the wife receives $1,200 per month from her pension, her monthly benefit amount of $1,000 will be reduced by $800 down to $200 total.
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