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3 Ways a Spouse Can Boost Your Social Security Payments


As I previously reported on, the decision on when to start collecting Social Security benefits can have a huge impact on the size of your monthly benefit.

But married couples can boost their lifetime benefits further if they time their retirements carefully, analysts say.

These spousal benefits allow one spouse to receive half of the retirement amount awarded to their husband or wife. Benefits can be greater for both spouses if they can wait at least until full retirement age before they start collecting payments. But both spouses don‘t have to collect at the same time.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your marriage when it comes to Social Security:

Lower earner gets a boost. A married person could see their benefits grow thanks to spousal benefits if one person earned much more than the other. For example, even if the lower earning spouse worked and is eligible for their own retirement benefits, their minimum benefit should be equal to at least half of the benefits awarded to the higher earning spouse. So if their full benefits fall short of that, they could get a combination of benefits that add up to the higher amount.

One spouse delays benefits, the other collects. Individuals can boost their retirement benefits by up to 32% if they wait until age 70 to start collecting Social Security. But married couples don’t have to go without income while they wait: one spouse can start collecting spousal benefits, even while the other is holding off payments. Say a husband decides to put off collecting full retirement benefits until age 70. He can still apply for retirement benefits and then ask to have payments suspended. That way his wife can receive a benefit one she reaches full retirement age of up to half of his regular retirement benefit would be, not including the boost he should get for delaying retirement. When he reaches age 70, he can collect his bigger check, and she can keep collecting her spousal benefits.

Collect while you wait. In a similar scenario, a person who has reached full retirement age and is eligible for spousal benefits and his or her own retirement benefit can choose to collect spousal benefits and to delay receiving their own retirement benefits. When they decide to collect their own retirement benefits at a later date, they can receive larger benefits if they’ve waited beyond their full retirement age.  It doesn’t matter if the other spouse is collecting retirement benefits or also delaying payments past retirement age.

But readers should keep in mind that regular benefits as well as spousal benefits are reduced if you start collecting them early at age 62. And once you reach age 70, there is no added incentive to either spouse to keep putting off payments.

Use the SmartMoney Retirement Planner to see the effect of delayed social security collection as well as spousal benefits.


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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.