How your Social Security benefits could be affected if you remarry

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Social Security benefits, payments are increasing in 2020; here's how much

There are plenty of dramatic stories of seniors who lost income by remarrying. It’s also common to hear of people who skip an official marriage so they can each retain higher amounts of Supplemental Security Income payments.

Whether you’ve already filed for benefits or are anticipating doing so in the next few years, be extra careful to check the potential impact on your SSI if you’re contemplating remarriage, wrote Tonya Graser Smith, Board Certified Specialist in Family Law, on the NASDAQ blog.

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“There is a maze of laws surrounding Social Security ... and remarriage,” Smith wrote. “Make sure you know them. For example, your 60th birthday is crucial. Get married one day before you turn 60, and you could lose benefits you were entitled to – or may have even already been receiving.”

It may not sound romantic, but learning how Social Security payments work before tying the knot can pay off in cash and peace of mind.

There are specific considerations for each of these three groups:

1. Widows and widowers collecting survivor benefits

When you’re a widow or widower, you can still collect survivor benefits after you remarry, but only if you’ve attained a certain age before you wed.

“Widows and widowers can collect survivor benefits when they reach age 60 (50 if they are disabled), or at any age, if they are caring for a child of the late spouse who is under 16 or disabled,” according to AARP.

2. Divorced spouses collecting spousal benefits on a deceased ex-spouse’s earnings

It’s also fairly straightforward to keep collecting those survivor benefits using your ex’s earnings as a basis if you were married for at least 10 years and your former spouse precedes you in death.

You can continue to get those payments if you’re 60 or older at the time you remarry, or 50 or older if you’re also disabled.

“If you remarry before you turn 60 and that marriage ends, you may become entitled or re-entitled to benefits on your prior deceased spouse’s earnings record,” said Jim Borland, then-Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications for the Social Security Administration, in 2017. “Your benefits begin the first month in which the subsequent marriage ended if all entitlement requirements are met.”

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3. Divorced spouses whose exes are still living

People who have divorced and whose former spouse is still living have the most to consider in terms of potentially losing SSI if they were counting on collecting benefits based on their former spouse’s earnings, or are already doing so.

“Generally, if you remarry, benefits paid to you from your prior spouse’s account stop,” Borland explained.

Timing and ‘double dipping’

It’s also important to note that your benefit amounts increase or decrease based on when you collect.

“As with widows and widowers, waiting until you reach the full retirement age (FRA) for survivors … entitles you to receive 100 percent of the amount your late ex was getting from Social Security when he or she died,” according to AARP.

“If the deceased never claimed benefits, you will get what he or she was eligible to receive. In most cases, claiming survivor benefits before you reach full retirement age reduces the amount of your benefit.”

Nor can you collect both your own and your spouse or former spouse’s SSI together; the SSA pays you the top amount, not the two totaled.

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“If you were widowed twice, you may be entitled to survivor benefits based on the work records of both late spouses, but you can only collect one such payment at a time. The Social Security Administration can supply information on which record would provide the larger benefit,” according to the AARP.

And there is also the impact of your new spouse’s income and resources to take into account.

“If you and your spouse both get SSI, your payment amount will change from an individual rate to a couple’s rate,” Borland said.

You can find more information on the SSA’s benefits page.

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