In some cases, you can do so. For example, let’s say you were single and you filed for your retirement benefits at your full retirement age of sixty-six. Hypothetically, we’ll assume your monthly check is $1,000. Now let’s assume you got married and your spouse was also at full retirement age and collecting a retirement benefit of $2,250 per month. Remember that maximum spousal benefits at your full retirement age are worth half of your spouse’s full retirement benefits, so half of $2,250 equals $1,125. In this case, your spousal benefits would be worth more than your own retirement benefits. You must be married for one year to collect spousal benefits. You’d need to contact the Social Security Administration to initiate the change to the higher benefit amount after your first wedding anniversary.

If you were already married and you waited until your full retirement age to file for your retirement benefits, you would receive spousal benefits if those benefits were worth more than your retirement benefits.

The answer to the question changes when you take your retirement benefits early. Let’s say your unreduced benefit is $1,000 at full retirement age, but you start receiving your checks at sixty-two. The amount of the reduction would be approximately 25 percent if your full retirement age is sixty-six. Your monthly check would go down to $750 if you began your retirement benefits at sixty-two. If your spouse’s retirement benefit is $1,800, 50 percent of that amount equals $900. You might assume that your check will increase to $900 rather than $750 if you took spousal benefits. Unfortunately, the $250 reduction is still imposed. In this example, $900 minus $250 results in a smaller $650 check for spousal benefits. Therefore, you would continue to receive your retirement benefits.

As you can see, sorting through Social Security benefits can get complicated! You must be proactive and contact the Social Security Administration to see if you are entitled to an increased benefit.