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Spouses have a more complex range of choices in choosing their Social Security benefits.

For single people, Social Security benefit options are quite straight forward. However, married couples need to think more on how they choose their benefit payments. They have a greater number of options than are found among single people.

Choosing between your SS benefits or your spouse’s benefits

When both spouses are still alive, they are able to choose between their own benefits that are calculated on their earnings throughout their career, or the higher earning spouse’s benefit equal to 50 percent of the total amount. Each couple should calculate their benefits according to both methods to see which will yield the higher benefit.

For example, if one spouse has earned more money over their career, calculate that spouse’s total benefit and then divide the amount by 2. This amount will be the benefit payment for the lower earning spouse. Then add together the amounts of the higher earner’s full benefit payment to that just calculated for the lower earning spouse. This should be compared to the sum of the benefits for both spouses calculated using each one’s individual life earnings.

Benefit conditions change for early retirement

If a spouse claims the higher earning spouse’s benefits before full retirement age, the percentage of that benefit that they are entitled to is reduced from the full 50 percent. For example if a spouse claims the SS benefits of the other spouse at age 62, they are entitled to only 35 percent of the higher earning spouse’s total benefit. Full retirement age for Social Security depends on your age (for more information, see: You will need to adjust your calculations for Social Security benefits, if you plan on using a spouse’s benefits before the full retirement age.