Expert Strategies for Maximizing Social Security Benefits as a Couple
For many married couples, Social Security benefits constitute a significant portion of their total retirement income.
As such, it is crucial to maximize the benefits each spouse receives over their lifetimes.
Strategies for Working and Nonworking Spouses, Including Same-Sex Marriages
Social Security offers special benefits designed for married couples, rooted in an era when households typically consisted of one working and one nonworking spouse.
The working spouse could claim benefits, and the nonworking spouse could receive an additional spousal benefit, often up to half of the working spouse’s benefit. This arrangement still exists today and extends to same-sex marriages.
The spousal benefit lasts for the lifetime of the recipient spouse. However, if the working spouse passes away, the surviving spouse’s benefit increases to the amount the deceased spouse was receiving.
If both spouses qualify for their own earned benefits, they receive the greater of the two amounts.
The maximum Social Security benefit for a couple depends on their year of birth and the retirement age. For example, individuals born in 1957 retiring at the full retirement age of 66 and 6 months in 2024 can expect a maximum monthly income of $3,822.
The figures vary based on the retirement age, with a maximum of $2,710 at age 62 and $4,873 at age 70.
To qualify for these amounts, individuals must have paid Social Security taxes for at least 35 years and earned at least the maximum income covered by Social Security, which is $168,600 in 2024.
Social Security Strategies and Planning for a Secure Retirement
Given the complexity of Social Security claiming strategies, couples may find it challenging to determine how to maximize their joint income.
Online programs like Open Social Security can assist by analyzing various claiming combinations and providing optimal strategies. Seeking professional advice is also a valuable option, as it may result in significantly higher benefits over the long term.
Ideally, each spouse should claim Social Security benefits at the age that maximizes their joint lifetime benefits, which may differ from their retirement age.
A common example is the “split strategy,” where the husband starts benefits at age 70, and the wife starts benefits at her full retirement age or earlier, particularly if the husband was the primary wage earner.
For those wanting to retire before the optimal Social Security claiming age, creative strategies can bridge the gap.
Working part-time or implementing a “Social Security bridge strategy” using retirement savings are viable options to replace the delayed benefits.
Unmarried couples typically do not receive the special spousal benefits. However, Social Security may recognize common-law marriages if acknowledged by the state. It is crucial to understand the rules that apply in such situations.
Maximizing Social Security benefits is a vital component of a secure retirement for married couples. By carefully considering claiming strategies, understanding the nuances of spousal benefits, and exploring creative ways to bridge gaps, couples can enhance their financial well-being.
Whether using online tools or seeking professional advice, investing time in optimizing Social Security benefits can yield substantial increases in lifetime retirement income.