If you've paid into the Social Security retirement system through payroll taxes, then you may be eligible for monthly benefits that will continue for the rest of your life. You must have at least 40 "credits" according to Social Security records, and you must reach the minimum retirement age, which in 2013 was 62. If you are married, you can draw benefits either as the spouse of a retired worker, or on your own record.
As the spouse of a covered worker, you are entitled to spouse benefits whether or not you've worked and paid into Social Security. You must be at least 62 years old, and your husband must be eligible for and drawing benefits. A spouse benefit is half of the principal worker's benefit and remains the same for life. If you begin taking the spouse benefit before your "full retirement age" (65 to 67, depending on the year of your birth), the spouse benefit is reduced further.
My Own Retirement
If you've paid into Social Security, you must earn at least 40 credits to draw retirement benefits. A credit is earned by earning $1,160 (as of 2013) and paying Social Security taxes on that money. You can earn a maximum of four credits a year. Social Security calculates your monthly retirement based on your work record and how much you've earned over the years. The more you make, the higher your monthly benefit. Again, if you retire before your full retirement age, then your monthly benefit is reduced (to be more precise, by 5/9 of 1 percent for each month, up to 36 months, before full retirement age).
Spousal and Retirement Benefits
If you are a covered spouse, you may be eligible for spouse benefits or your own retirement benefits once you reach 62 years of age. You can't draw both. Social Security will pay your own retirement if the amount is higher. If the spouse benefit is higher, then Social Security will pay the spousal benefit. In either case, your benefit is still reduced if you don't wait until full retirement age -- with one exception.
Working and Benefits
There is an important exception to the minimum age rule: if you are caring for a child under 16 years of age, and your husband is drawing benefits, then you are entitled to a full spouse benefit, no matter your age. In addition, you can continue to work after you begin receiving Social Security benefits. Social Security places a cap on earnings, however. If you work before full retirement age, the agency will reduce your benefits by $1 for every $2 you earn if you go over the cap. If you work after full retirement age, then there is no deduction.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.