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Social Security strategy to boost couples’ benefits

WASHINGTON — With one out of every four 65-year-olds living past age 90 and one in 10 living beyond 95, having enough money to live on during a retirement that could last 30 years or more is critical.

For many, a Social Security benefit is a significant source of retirement income, yet most people are not aware of strategies that benefit married couples, widows and widowers, and even divorcee. Today, I plan to focus on strategies that every married couple should consider.

Claiming your Social Security benefit used to be pretty straight forward – you reached retirement age and received benefits based on your work record. But in 2000, the Social Security Administration added something called “file and suspend,” which changed the rules and opened the door for married couples to receive potentially much more income during their retirement years.

The “file and suspend” strategy allows one spouse who has reached full retirement age, and usually the one with the higher earnings, to file for his/her Social Security benefits and then suspend (or delay) receiving the benefits until age 70, after the maximum amount is reached. During that time, the benefits will earn an 8 percent annual delayed retirement credit. That’s a significant annual increase.

This also triggers the ability for the other spouse to claim his/her spousal benefit, which is typically 50 percent of the other’s benefit as long as full retirement age is reached. A spouse can claim spousal benefits as early as age 62, but those benefits will be less than 50 percent. By claiming their spousal benefits instead of their own, they receive income while the benefits under their own record continue to increase.

Here’s the fine print:

The break, even for the “file and suspend” strategy, is typically around age 80 for the older of the two spouses, so I only recommend it if clients are in good health with a longer life expectancy.

Also, if you need the Social Security income to meet your expected living expenses, then I would not recommend this option.

Need Help Figuring Out the Social Security System?


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