If you’re married and thinking about retirement, you should consider the strategy you use to file for Social Security benefits carefully. The age at which you and your spouse begin collecting benefits will affect not just the amount you receive as a couple today, but the amount of money available to the surviving spouse.
Because both spouses can claim benefits at different times and because the lower earning spouse may receive spousal benefits based on the higher earner’s work record, there are dozens of ways to claim Social Security.
Timing is everything
Couples with similar incomes and assets to support their cost of living until age 70, may opt to delay claiming Social Security until age 70 to increase their future payments.
But if you earn more than your spouse, you may delay filing for benefits, allowing your payout to grow by 8 percent per year until your full retirement age — which is either 66 or 67 depending on your birth year — until age 70. Your lower earning spouse could then start collecting spousal benefits equal to half of your benefit at full retirement age. That guarantees the surviving spouse a higher Social Security check for life.
Spouses (even those who never worked) may claim a Social Security retirement benefit based on their own earnings record or 50 percent of their spouse’s full retirement age benefit.
You must be at least age 62 to file for spousal benefits or have a qualifying child in your care under age 16 or receiving Social Security disability benefits. You are not eligible for benefits until your spouse files for benefits. Spousal benefits do not accrue delayed retirement credits, so there is no advantage to delay claiming benefits beyond one’s full retirement age.
However, if you start taking benefits before your full retirement age (66 or 67), the amount of your benefit will be permanently reduced. For those collecting a spousal benefit, the amount they would receive at age 62 could be as little as 32.5 percent of the full retirement benefit.1
Of course, there may be good reasons to file before your full retirement age. Health concerns, a reduced life expectancy, and financial need are all important considerations.
Different rules may apply
If you were born on or before January 1, 1954, you may choose to receive only the spousal benefit at your full retirement age and delay receiving your own retirement benefit until a later date. That allows your own benefit to accrue delayed retirement credits. You could then switch at age 70 from receiving a spousal benefit to receiving your own higher benefit.2
Those born on or after January 2, 1954, do not have that option. When you file for one benefit, you are considered to have filed for all benefits to which you are entitled.
Final decisions about Social Security filing strategies always rest with you and should always be based on your specific needs and health considerations. One year after the Social Security claiming decision is made the options for change are extremely limited.
Provided by Karen Melo Ticas, a Certified Financial PlannerTM Practitioner with Planning for Good, courtesy of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). © 2018 Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, MA 01111-0001