Social Security for Stay-at-Home Moms (and Dads): How to Qualify for Benefits

Just because you don't bring home a paycheck doesn't mean you're not working. A stay-at-home parent can get a Social Security check just like any other worker. Here's how.

A small child stands on top of the feet of her smiling mom and looks up at her in their living room.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In order to qualify for a full Social Security benefit, you have to have worked 40 quarters, which equates to 10 years, earning a minimum of at least $1,640 per quarter. However, what if you elected to stay home, raise your kids and never worked for 40 quarters? Or even if you got your 40 quarters in, what if you didn’t earn enough income to get much of a benefit. Can you still receive Social Security as a stay-at-home mom or dad? The good news is you can.

If you are a married person with little to no earnings history, you can receive a benefit up to half of your spouse’s Social Security. More specifically, you receive half of your spouse’s “primary insurance amount,” which is the benefit they receive at their Social Security full retirement age, which right now is age 66 or 67 for most people.

When you receive half of your spouse’s Social Security, this is known as the "spousal benefit."

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There are a few rules and restrictions to keep in mind if you want to claim this benefit:

  • You should take the greater of your own Social Security benefit, or half of your spouse’s.
  • You must be at least 62 years of age and, if you apply before your full retirement age, the benefit will be reduced. For example, if your full retirement age is 66, and you take it at 62, you receive 70% of the amount you’re entitled to at age 66.
  • As of May 1, 2016, your spouse has to be receiving their Social Security in order for you to take the spousal benefit, unless they were grandfathered in under the old “file and suspend” rule.
  • Generally, you must be married for one year before you can get spouse’s benefits. However, if you are the parent of your spouse’s child, the one-year rule does not apply.
  • Only one spouse in a marriage can claim this spousal benefit.

Keep in mind, if you are still working and you take a spousal benefit before your full retirement age, part or all of your benefits may be withheld depending on how much money you make. If you make more than $21,240 per year, then for every $2 you earn above this threshold, $1 in benefits is withheld. You don’t lose these withheld benefits. They will be added into your monthly benefit later when you stop working or reach full retirement age. At that time, your benefit is recalculated and includes the withheld benefits to make the overall benefit higher.

Also, if you are divorced, you can receive a spousal benefit as long as the marriage lasted 10 years. You must be at least 62 years of age, you can't be married at the time you apply, and your ex-spouse must be at least 62.

The big difference in the case of a divorce is that your ex-spouse doesn't have to file for his or her benefit in order for you to receive the spousal benefit as long as you have been divorced for at least two years. 

Finally, in a case where you are a widow, you can actually claim the deceased spouse’s benefit as early as age 60 as long as the marriage lasted nine months, and instead of receiving half of your deceased spouse’s Social Security, you will receive 100% of the deceased spouse's earned benefit if you file at your full retirement age. Keep in mind this survivors benefit will be reduced if you apply early.


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Mike Piershale, ChFC
President, Piershale Financial Group
Mike Piershale, ChFC, is president of Piershale Financial Group in Barrington, Illinois. He works directly with clients on retirement and estate planning, portfolio management and insurance needs.