While aspects of social security benefits can be complex for individuals, the matter often gets more complicated for married couples. To plan out the best strategies for dealing with social security when it comes to marriage, there are important things you need to know.
First of all, there are terminologies used when discussing social security. It is best first to understand what some of the key terms are before planning ahead.
- Spousal Benefits – For the spouse that earns less, they have to make a choice. They can either claim their own benefits or claim for spousal benefits equal to 50% of the other spouse’s benefits. To be eligible to claim spousal benefits, the higher-earning spouse must already be collecting on benefits. If spousal benefits is being collected, and the lower-earning spouse is not yet at the full retirement age, the monthly payments will be reduced.
- Surviving Spouse Benefits – The spouse that has survived a retired person who was already receiving full benefits will be able to receive 100% of the benefits provided they have reached full retirement age. If not, the benefits will be reduced based on the surviving spouse’s age. Also, if the surviving spouse is already receiving benefits but the deceased spouse’s benefits is higher, the surviving spouse will receive their own benefits plus the difference between their own benefits and the benefits of the deceased.
Perfecting a Strategy
To plan a strategy, the age difference between spouses should be considered. In the case where a couple has a substantial age gap, there should be a consideration for not waiting until the full benefit can be received.
It is also essential to calculate what other resources can be used until a spouse can no longer wait for additional financial support. By taking into account other retirement savings and how much the household needs to bring in each month to meet financial obligations, married couples and surviving spouses may better predict when to take the benefit.
The ‘Benefits During the Wait’ Strategy
One can receive spousal benefits before the other half of the couple is at the age to collect in full. This is called voluntary suspension, and it works by having the higher-earning spouse file for benefits and the other spouse filing for spousal benefits. The higher-earning spouse can request the voluntary suspension of benefits while the other spouse continues to collect benefits. The suspended spouse’s benefits will then continue to grow. This will allow more money to be brought in while the other benefits get larger.
The ‘Waiting for the Switch’ Strategy
There is also another scenario that may work for a spouse who prefers to wait on benefits until they are of age. If the husband plans on waiting until age 70 to collect benefits and the wife is eligible for her own benefits, technically the wife could sign up to collect her benefits allowing her husband to receive spousal benefits. The husband could continue to collect on spousal benefits until he has reached the age of 70. When that time comes, he can make the change to the higher benefit with his wife filing for spousal benefits if the amount would be higher.
There are some complicate matters involved in social security and planning for retirement. It is best to explore all possible scenarios to see which is going to work best for both halves of the couple before making a decision. The ultimate goal should be using the strategy that best maximizes all the contributions you have made into your plan over the years in order to have the most financial stability.
Common Scenarios for Social Security
These scenarios assume that you should start at the full retirement age so that you have access to the full benefit. However, starting at the full retirement age may not be the best option depending on your specific situation. These scenarios also assume that both spouses are planning to stop working. These factors, along with life expectancy, your financial needs, and other retirement savings are important factors to consider when determining the best strategy for you. Unfortunately, we cannot explore all the intricacies involving these factors here.
- The spousal benefits is 50% of the primary claimant’s benefits.
- The full retirement age is typically around 65-67 depending on your age.
- The minimum age to collect social security benefits is 62 years old. However, your payment is reduced if you start to receive your benefits prior to the full retirement age (e.g., at age 62 you are only eligible to receive 75% of the full retirement benefits).
- Your benefits increase ~8% per year above the full retirement age (up to age 70), and the 50% spousal benefit portions also increases accordingly.
- The spousal benefits is also reduced if your spouse is younger than the full retirement age. For example, if both of you decide to collect benefits at 62, the primary beneficiary receives 75% of the benefits, and the spouse will receive only 28% (50% x 75% x 75%) — don’t do this!
- The greater your earnings, the bigger your monthly payment.
If you and your spouse are both alive:
|Similar Earnings||You Earned More||You Earned Less|
|Similar Age||You each claim your own benefits because your individual benefits will be greater than either of the spousal benefits.||If your spouse’s benefits is less than the spousal benefits, you claim your benefits and your spouse claims the spousal benefits.
As your spouse becomes older, your spouse’s benefits might exceed the spousal benefits, if so, switch.
|If your benefits is less than your spouse’s spousal benefits, she claims her benefits, and you claim the spousal benefits.
As you become older, your benefits might exceed the spousal benefits, if so, switch.
|You are Older||You claim your benefits and your spouse claims the spousal benefits any time between the age of 62 and the full retirement age. She let her benefits grow and switches to her benefits any time between the full retirement age and 70 (when the maximum benefit amount is reached).||You claim your benefits and your spouse claims the spousal benefits.
When (and if) her benefits exceed the spousal benefits, she switches to her benefits.
|You claim your benefits and your spouse claims the spousal benefits.
When your spouse reaches her full retirement age, she switches to her benefits. If your benefits is less than your wife’s spousal benefits, you also switch.
|You are Younger||Your spouse claims her benefits and you claim the spousal benefits any time between the age of 62 and the full retirement age.
You can switch to your benefits any time between the full retirement age and 70 (when the maximum benefit amount is reached).
|Your spouse claims her benefits and you claim the spousal benefits.
When you reach the full retirement age, you switch to your benefits. If your spouse’s benefits is now less than your spousal benefits, she also switches.
|Your spouse claims her benefits and you claim the spousal benefits.
When you reach the full retirement age, you switch to your benefits if it’s more than what you’re collecting.
Another Point Worth Noting
The rules and regulations may change often in regards to what you can and can no longer do. Your best first move would be to discuss the various scenarios with your spouse and then contact the Social Security Administration with any questions or concerns you may have. A qualified financial consultant may also add insight into your overall retirement planning needs and goals.
Source: Social Security Online.