Maximizing Social Security Distributions When Your Spouse Is Younger

Published on Dec 17, 2013 08:45 am

The approach to collecting social security is not one-size-fits-all. If one spouse is younger, or one earns significantly more, informed decision-making can help you maximize social security benefits.

For married couples, getting the maximum value out of Social Security benefits requires careful planning. While there are several strategies, it’s important to understand how the age difference between the two spouses will impact your retirement investment plan. The difference in lifetime earnings and the amount of money needed in retirement also factors in.

Social Security Basics

As of 2013, once you reach age 62, you can choose to begin collecting Social Security benefits when you retire. You get your “full retirement age” benefit if you wait until you’re 67 to begin collecting, and can get an even higher monthly benefit payment if you wait until you’re 70. These rules also apply to spousal benefits –the younger spouse can start collecting spousal benefits upon turning 62 as long as the older spouse has already started claiming benefits.

Spousal Benefits

When you’re married, you don’t just get to collect Social Security on the basis of your own income. The Social Security Administration offers the ability to collect spousal benefits. The spousal benefit lets the lower earning spouse collect an extra benefit – in addition to the benefit they are already due – from Social Security to help close the gap between the amountsthe two spouses collect.

Maximizing Spousal Benefits

Spousal benefits come into play when the younger spouse has turned 62, and are available only if the older spouse has filed for benefits. However, you don’t both have to be collecting benefits. To clarify, the older spouse could file for benefits, even if he or she doesn’t want them, then immediately suspend collecting them. This would trigger the younger spouse’s ability to collect spousal benefits. The younger spouse could then use those benefits to increase his or her own Social Security payments. It’s worth noting that these rules are complicated and the official Social Security website might not seem to explain them clearly. If this is an option you and your spouse are contemplating, you may want to run the strategy by a retirement broker or financial adviser first.

Maximizing Survivor Benefits

The survivor’s benefit comes into play if the lower earning spouse outlives the higher earning spouse. If this happens, the lower earning spouse’s payment can get bumped up to what the deceased spouse was collecting for the remainder of the surviving spouse’s lifetime. If the younger spouse is also the lower earning spouse, and more likely to be the surviving spouse, one way to increase that spouse’s earnings is to have the higher earning spouse wait to turn 70 before filing for Social Security. This will establish a higher benefit amount that, once the older spouse dies, will benefit the younger spouse when he or she starts collecting Social Security.

This strategy can work especially well in two instances. If the higher earning spouse lives a long time, he will get to collect more money thanks to the higher payments than he would have by taking his money earlier, even leaving aside the benefit that the surviving spouse gets from the higher payments.

While maximizing Social Security can help you to have more income for retirement, good financial habits are equally important to reaching your retirement goals. Managing your debts in advance so that you don’t spend too much of your social security benefits on debt payments is one example of this. Protecting yourself from fraud by checking your credit reports periodically is another.

About the Author
Solomon Poretsky has been a writer since 1996, with experience in the fields of financial services, real estate and technology. Poretsky holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University.

This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial issues involved with credit decisions.

Published by permission from, Inc.  © 2013, Inc.  All rights reserved.

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