2 Social Security Questions All Married Couples Should Ask | Smart Change: Personal Finance

(Maurie Backman)

Being married in retirement means having to coordinate certain decisions, one of which is filing for Social Security. You’re allowed to sign up for benefits as early as age 62, albeit at a reduced rate. Meanwhile, your full monthly benefit is available to you at full retirement age, or FRA, which kicks in at age 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on your year of birth.

There’s also the option to delay your filing past FRA. For each year you do, up until age 70, your benefits get an 8% boost.

You may be in the process of narrowing down your Social Security filing age. Or maybe you still have no idea when to sign up for benefits. Either way, if you’re married, here are two important questions you’ll need to ask and answer.

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1. Does my spouse have to wait for me to file to collect Social Security?

It’s possible to collect Social Security without actually working and paying into the system. Social Security offers what are known as spousal benefits, and they allow current or former spouses of Social Security recipients to receive payments during retirement.

If you’re married to someone who never worked or worked very part-time and did not earn enough credits to qualify for Social Security on their own, then they may be entitled to spousal benefits equal up to 50% of the sum you ‘ re entitled to. But your partner can not file for spousal benefits until you start collecting Social Security yourself.

As such, you may want to discuss that situation with your spouse and make sure your plans align with theirs. It may be that you and your spouse both have an FRA of 67, and that’s when your spouse wants to retire. But if you’re hoping to delay benefits, your spouse’s retirement might get delayed by virtue of having to wait on Social Security – so that’s a scenario worth talking through and syncing up on.

2. Will my spouse be reliant on my benefits once I pass?

It may be that you and your spouse have amassed a multimillion-dollar nest egg – one that will pay you enough money that your Social Security benefits are just gravy. If that’s the case, then your Social Security filing age may not matter so much.

But if you’re short in the savings department, it’s a different story. In that case, you’ll need to consider the ramifications of signing up for Social Security too soon.

Once you pass away, your spouse will be entitled to survivors benefits through Social Security. But unlike spousal benefits, which pay half of your benefit, survivors benefits pay 100% of your benefit, provided your spouse does not claim them early. And so the longer you hold off on claiming benefits yourself, the more generous an income stream you might manage to leave your spouse with.

Talk things through

Having open conversations is a generally good practice in all aspects of marriage, and that applies to Social Security as well. It’s a good idea to carve out some time to discuss your Social Security plans with your spouse and make sure you’re both on the same page. You may need to adjust your plans, individually and collectively, to help one another meet different needs and goals. But the great thing about Social Security is that it’s very flexible, allowing you to file at a time that works well for both you and your life partner.

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