Dear Rusty: My wife will be 62 in a few months and I’m still working (I am 59). Can my wife get any Social Security if I’m not yet retired? She’s short quarters for her own Social Security from when she worked. She also worked under our State Teachers Retirement System as a substitute teacher, but she is short of getting any STRS benefits. She’s a diabetic and has other health problems, so can she qualify for disability? Signed: Inquiring Husband
Dear Inquiring Husband: Your wife cannot collect Social Security spousal benefits from your record until you are collecting your own Social Security. To be eligible for Social Security on her own work record she needs to have at least 40 “quarters” of work credits – about 10 years of substantial earnings over her lifetime during which she and her employer both contributed to Social Security. Her employment with STRS didn’t give her Social Security credits since her State employer doesn’t participate in the Social Security program; however, if she doesn’t have a STRS pension then neither does she need to worry about that pension affecting her eventual Social Security spousal benefits when she can collect from you (if she had a pension from STRS her Social Security spousal benefit would be reduced).
As far as the possibility of your wife getting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, SSDI benefits can only be awarded based upon one’s own work record. Whether your wife qualifies would depend upon how many Social Security quarter credits she has and when they were earned. Your wife would need to have worked in Social Security covered employment for at least 5 of the last 10 years to be eligible for SSDI benefits, and her current health condition would need to render her totally disabled and unable to work (and that must be medically confirmed) in order to qualify.
If she hasn’t already done so, I suggest your wife obtain a Statement of Estimated Benefits and Earnings Statement from Social Security. She can do this online by setting up her own personal “My Social Security” account at www.ssa.gov or by requesting same from Social Security via phone. You can find your local Social Security office contact information by going to this link: www.ssa.gov/locator. Once you have obtained this information you will be able to determine exactly how many Social Security “quarter credits” your wife actually has to this point and the employment years for which she earned them (for SSDI purposes), and also if she is entitled to any Social Security benefits on her own from credits earned over her lifetime (SS credits don’t expire). Having all that information should help your wife fully understand if she has any claiming options other than waiting until you start collecting your own Social Security retirement benefit, at which point she can claim her spousal benefit.
This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.