When a homemaker dedicates her life to caring for her husband, raising their children and maintaining their home, she might not have earned income or contributed to Social Security during her lifetime. However, as long as her spouse is eligible, she will receive 50 percent of what her spouse receives from Social Security. If her spouse dies before he collects Social Security, she is eligible for the full amount of her spouse's benefit. Her benefits will be lower if she begins receiving Social Security payments before her full retirement age.
Spouse Without Contributions
Even if a homemaker never contributed anything to Social Security in her lifetime, if her spouse is entitled to Social Security benefits, she is entitled to a spousal Social Security benefit when she reaches her full retirement age. The amount of her benefit is one-half of her spouse's benefit. Although the homemaker's benefit is tied to the amount of her spouse's benefit, it does not reduce the amount that her spouse receives from Social Security. If the homemaker begins taking Social Security at age 62, her benefit is reduced by the number of months until her full retirement age.
Spouse With Contributions
Some homemakers might have had occasional employment during their lifetimes, and therefore might have contributed to Social Security. If a homemaker is entitled to a Social Security benefit based on her own wages, she receives the greater of her benefit or her spousal benefit. Technically, the homemaker is paid her own benefit and then is paid the portion of her spousal benefit that takes her to the maximum of the two benefits.
Caregiver for a Child
When a homemaker is a caregiver for a child who is receiving Social Security benefits, the homemaker can collect her spousal benefit regardless of her age. However, once the child turns 16, the homemaker's spousal benefit stops unless she has reached full retirement age. The child's benefits continue. If a homemaker, her spouse and one or more of her children are all receiving social security, the total the family can collectively receive is about 150 to 180 percent of the spouse's full retirement benefit.
When a homemaker's spouse dies and her spouse contributed enough to be eligible for Social Security, she is eligible for a survivor's benefit. If the homemaker waits until her full retirement age to take the survivor's benefit, she will earn the full amount of her spouse's Social Security benefit. However, a widow is entitled to begin taking Social Security at age 60. If the homemaker begins Social Security before her full retirement age, her monthly benefit is reduced accordingly. A widow might also be eligible for a lump-sum death benefit.
Steve McDonnell's experience running businesses and launching companies complements his technical expertise in information, technology and human resources. He earned a degree in computer science from Dartmouth College, served on the WorldatWork editorial board, blogged for the Spotfire Business Intelligence blog and has published books and book chapters for International Human Resource Information Management and Westlaw.