published Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Coffey: Spouses can draw up to 50% of benefits

Q: Mr. O, of Tullahoma, Tenn., writes: "I am drawing Social Security benefits which I started at 62, and my wife has filed and is about to draw benefits at 62. I have read where a spouse can draw up to 50 percent of their husband's Social Security benefits even if the spouse did not work, and both are still living.

My question is, since my wife has worked and will be drawing a smaller Social Security check than half of my benefits, can she request up to 50 percent of my benefits? If not, it does not seem fair for a person to draw 50 percent of their spouse's Social Security and not work and pay in. Does this apply to only poverty income individuals? If so, than I would understand."

A: Anyone is eligible to draw on a spouse's record as long as his or her full retirement age benefit (the amount you would have been eligible to receive if you had waited until 66 to file) is less than 50 percent of the spouse's full retirement age benefit.

Let's say your full retirement age benefit is $1,000. As long as your spouse's full retirement age benefit is $499 or less, she would be able to draw a small portion of your benefit up to the 50 percent maximum.

This additional benefit amount was made available to dependent family members when the Social Security Act was amended in 1939. The law allows benefits to be payable off the wage earner's record for their retirement-aged spouse, dependent children or young spouse with dependent children in their care.

Further reference for this question and many others can be found at our website,, under Questions in the right column. Select "benefits," then hit go. Search by keyword.

Q: "Why is there a five-month waiting period for Social Security disability benefits?"

A: By law, Social Security disability benefits can be paid only after a worker has been disabled continuously throughout a period of five full calendar months. The first benefit paid is for the sixth month of disability and is paid in the seventh month. This waiting period ensures that we pay benefits only to people with long-term disabilities and avoid duplicating other income protection plans (such as employer sick-pay plans) during the early months of disability. To learn more, read our online publication, "Disability Benefits," at

Q: "I just found out I qualify for supplemental security income. How much will I receive in SSI benefits?"

A: SSI is a needs-based program. The benefit amount depends, in part, on other income and resources you might have. The maximum federal SSI payment nationwide throughout 2010 for an eligible individual is $674 a month, and for an eligible couple is $1,011 a month. The amount of your SSI benefit also depends, in part, on where you live. Some states add money to the federal payment. Learn more by visiting our library of SSI publications at

Get answers to your Social Security questions each Thursday from the Social Security District Director Martin Coffey. Submit questions by writing to Business Editor John Vass Jr., Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at

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