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Ask the Expert: Why was ex-husband denied Social Security spousal benefits?

My ex-husband filed for Social Security at age 62. At that time, I was 61 years old. I started collecting my benefit when I retired at 66, at my full retirement age. He then applied for spousal benefits based on my work record. He was told he didn't qualify. We were married for 29 years. Can you explain why he might have been denied?

The likeliest explanation is that his benefit based on his own earnings record was bigger than the one he qualified to collect as your ex-spouse. A person who's eligible for two Social Security benefits always gets the larger of the two — not both.

A divorced person can collect Social Security based on a former spouse's record if he meets five requirements: 1) He's at least 62 years old; 2) he hasn't remarried; 3) his former spouse is eligible to collect either a Social Security retirement or disability benefit, even if she hasn't yet applied for it; 4) their marriage lasted 10 years or more; 5) his spousal benefit is bigger than the amount he receives based on his own record.

The most anyone can receive based on a former spouse's earnings record is 50% of the amount of the ex-spouse's full retirement age benefit. If your benefit was $2,000 a month, for example, your ex-husband's maximum spousal benefit based on your record would be $1,000. The minimum spousal benefit is 32.5%, or $650 in this example.

And based on what you say, your ex-husband didn't qualify for the maximum spousal benefit because he applied early for his own benefit. That early application automatically reduced his potential spousal benefit.

The bottom line

When you qualify for two Social Security benefits, you always receive an amount equal to the larger of the two — not both.

More information

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