Investing Retirement Planning Social Security Differences Between Social Security Survivor and Spousal Benefits By Dana Anspach Dana Anspach Twitter Dana Anspach is a Certified Financial Planner and an expert on investing and retirement planning. She is the founder and CEO of Sensible Money, a fee-only financial planning and investment firm. learn about our editorial policies Updated on October 22, 2021 Reviewed by Thomas J. Catalano Reviewed by Thomas J. Catalano Thomas J Catalano is a CFP and Registered Investment Adviser with the state of South Carolina, where he launched his own financial advisory firm in 2018. Thomas' experience gives him expertise in a variety of areas including investments, retirement, insurance, and financial planning. learn about our financial review board Fact checked by Hans Jasperson Fact checked by Hans Jasperson Hans Jasperson has over a decade of experience in public policy research, with an emphasis on workforce development, education, and economic justice. His research has been shared with members of the U.S. Congress, federal agencies, and policymakers in several states. learn about our editorial policies In This Article View All In This Article Effect of Delayed Retirement The Earnings Test Switching Your Plan for Survivor Benefits Length of Marriage Requirements Photo: Nitat Termmee / Getty Images You may have Social Security on your mind if you're married and you're in your 60s, or if you're helping your parents who are approaching their golden years. Knowing the terms and rules that apply to spousal and survivor benefits can be key to your planning. The rules can vary based on the type of Social Security benefits you're hoping to collect. Key Takeaways Delaying benefits beyond your Full Retirement Age (FRA) will not increase spousal benefits, but survivor benefits will go up.You can't switch between your own and spousal benefits unless you were born before 1954. But you can switch between your own benefits and survivor benefits.The length of time you've been married can affect both survivor and spousal benefits. You can claim survivor benefits first. Effect of Delayed Retirement Not only does your benefit amount go up, but the survivor benefit paid out to a surviving spouse also goes up if you wait to begin collecting your Social Security benefits until you reach full retirement age or later, up until the maximum allowed, which is currently 70 as of 2021. Survivor benefit amounts include any delayed retirement credits that accrue until the passing of the earner. But this isn't the case with spousal benefits. It will result in an increase of 5.5% to 8% per year if you delay retirement and keep on earning credits. There's no plus in waiting beyond your full retirement age to collect a spousal benefit. But you can gain from waiting to begin your own benefits if you're married and if you're the higher earner. This will also increase the survivor benefit. The Earnings Test Joint benefits for married couples often increase when the spouse who earns less begins taking benefits earlier. But this depends on those benefits not being lost due to the earnings test while the spouse who earns more delays benefits until age 70. Note The earnings test is used by the Social Security Administration to withhold benefits if the earnings exceed a certain level. The test only applies to those who haven't yet reached the normal retirement age. Switching Your Plan for Survivor Benefits You can begin taking benefits as a widow or widower based on your own earnings record. Then you can later switch to survivor's benefits. You might also begin survivor's benefits and later switch to benefits based on your own record. Both choices mean filing a restricted application. This means you're restricting your request to either your own benefit amount or a survivor benefit amount. Switching isn't allowed between spouse's benefits and benefits based on your own record unless you were born on or before January 1, 1954. You must also have reached your full retirement age. The date of birth rule came into play due to changes that became law in November 2015. Note You can use a Social Security calculator if you're trying to decide which claiming plan will pay you the most. These programs will crunch the numbers for you and show you which options pay more. Length of Marriage Requirements The rules vary for how long you must be married to claim these types of benefits. It's nine months to be eligible for a survivor benefit on your spouse's record. It increases to one year to be eligible for a spousal benefit on a current spouse's work record. Two years are required if your divorced spouse has reached age 62 but hasn't yet filed. You must be divorced for two years before you can claim a spousal benefit based on their record. There's no two-year rule for claiming on an ex-spouse's record if they've filed for benefits. You must have been married for 10 years to claim a spousal benefit on an ex-spouse's record. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Code of Federal Regulations. "20 CFR §404.338." Social Security Administration. "Delayed Retirement Credits." Social Security Administration. "Retirement Benefits." Social Security Administration. "Exempt Amounts Under the Earnings Test." Social Security Administration. "Program Operations Manual RS 00615.301 Reduced Widow(er)'s Benefits." Social Security Administration. "Program Operations Manual System GN 00204.035 Deemed Filing." Code of Federal Regulations. "20 CFR §404.335." Code of Federal Regulations. "20 CFR §404.330." Code of Federal Regulations. "20 CFR §404.331."