Married couples have the most flexibility when it comes to claiming Social Security benefits. Knowing when and how to collect benefits can increase a couple’s lifetime retirement income by $100,000 or more.
- In many cases, a lower-earning spouse may be eligible for two types of benefits: a retirement benefit on his or her own work history and a spousal benefit. Individuals who claim Social Security before full retirement age cannot choose which benefit they want to receive. They will be paid their own retirement benefit, reduced for early claiming and, if the spousal amount is larger, the difference will be layered on top of the retirement benefit, also reduced for early claiming.
- It often makes sense for a younger, lower-earning spouse to collect reduced benefits as early as age 62 to generate income for the couple while the higher-earner defers his benefit. And even though her retirement or spousal benefits are permanently reduced, her survivor benefits will not be reduced if she is at least full retirement age at the time. Survivor benefits are worth 100% of the deceased worker’s benefit amount if collected at 66 or later; less if collected as early as age 60.
- If you claimed Social Security early and now regret it, you have two options to increase your benefits. You can withdraw your application for benefits within the first 12 months of claiming, but you must repay all the benefits you have received. Or, if you wait until 66, you can voluntarily suspend your benefits — but not repay them — and earn delayed retirement credits for four years up to age 70. Your surviving spouse will thank you.
- For traditional married couples where one spouse is the main breadwinner and the other spouse has little or no Social Security benefits of his or her earn, it may makes sense for the higher-earning spouse to “file and suspend” benefits at 66. That will trigger a benefit for the spouse while deferring the worker’s retirement benefit up to age 70 when it will be worth the maximum amount.
- For dual-income couples, it can make sense for one spouse to claim benefits and the other, at age 66, to file a “restricted claim for spousal benefits.” That allows the second spouse to collect half of the first spouse’s Social Security benefit amount while deferring his or her benefit up to age 70.
- Each person is entitled to one claiming strategy. You must wait until reaching the magic age of 66 to either file and suspend your benefits or to file a restricted claim for spousal benefits. Only one spouse can file and suspend. Only one spouse can file a restricted claim for spousal benefits.