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Can a married couple collect two Social Security checks?

Both partners in a marriage who worked enough to claim benefits, are able to receive two checks. Spousal benefits are a bit more complicated.

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Can a married couple collect two Social Security checks?

This week the Social Security Administration (SSA) is expected to release the 2022 Cost-of-living-adjustment, or COLA as it is more commonly known. This upcoming news has raised many questions about Social Security benefits, including how married couples receive their checks.

Regardless of one’s marital status, benefit amounts are based on a person’s work history. If a worker is married, each spouse is entitled to their total benefit amount because they each paid taxes into the benefits scheme throughout their career.

What is the Social Security spousal benefit?

The SSA allows the spouse of a beneficiary to claim partial benefits when their spouse begins to receive their benefits. The spouse claiming the partial benefits must be at least sixty-two years of age or be in the care of a disabled child or one younger than sixteen.

The total amount received in Social Security for a worker is known as their Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). The SSA will use the PIA to calculate the benefit a spouse is entitled to.

What is a Primary Insurance Amount?

The "primary insurance amount" (PIA) is the benefit (before rounding down to next lower whole dollar) a person would receive if he/she elects to begin receiving retirement benefits at his/her normal retirement age. At this age, the benefit is neither reduced for early retirement nor increased for delayed retirement.

Source: Social Security Adminstration

Sixty-two is the youngest age spousal benefits can be claimed but there are penalties for not waiting until the spouse is sixty-five or older. At sixty-two, the SSA could give the spouse as little as “32.5 percent of the worker's primary insurance amount.”

A formula based on the number of months before retirement age a spouse is attempting to claim benefits is used to calculate the total amount that will be received. The formula begins by cutting the PIA in half. Then, the SSA states that the “spousal benefit is reduced 25/36 of one percent for each month before normal retirement age, up to 36 months.” Should the number exceed thirty-six months, the benefit will be “further reduced 5/12 of one percent per month.

Calculating the spousal benefit

So for example, if a beneficiaries primary insurance amount is $1,600 and a spouse chooses to claim benefits more at most thirty-six months before the official retirement age, they will see their benefit cut by fifty percent to $800. Then, the SSA calculates the reduction factor based on the amount, “which is 36 times 25/36 of one percent, or 25 percent.” After applying the reduction, the benefit amount drops to $600 or 37.5 percent of the primary insurance amount of their spouse.