Social Security Spousal Benefits Rules: Retirement Income For the One You Love

For many of my baby boomer client that are close to retirement, calculating their Social Security Benefits is an important part of the financial planning process.  It’s important to have a good understanding of the monthly benefit so that we know which other retirement buckets will be producing the short fall (if any) of their income needed for retirement.  In many of my client situations, the husband has been the primary bread winner, so there isn’t much question on their Social Security Benefit.What does arise some questions is the spouse’s social security benefit.   It can be confusing in situations where the spouse worked some years back, and is not totally sure to how much they paid into social security.

If you are married, you can claim social security benefits based on your history of earnings or you can collect social security spousal benefits which are equal to 50% of your spouse’s social security benefit.  There are several advantages for married couples and their social security benefits, and you have the ability to receive benefits for a longer period of time in some cases.  If you’re a widow, you can also claim social security spousal benefits.

How Social Security Spousal Benefits Work

You have the option of claiming your own social security benefits, calculated from your work record, or claiming up to 50% of what your husband or wife will receive as your spousal benefit, if your husband or wife has filed for social security.  You can’t collect both your own social security benefits and your spousal benefit at the same time.  If you are entitled to both, you’ll receive the larger of the two.

A widow who collects survivor benefits at the normal retirement age (or later) will receive 100% of the deceased spouse’s social security benefit.  If you file for social security spousal benefits between the age of 60 and your normal retirement age, the amount you receive will shrink 71 to 99%.  It’s always better to delay receiving social security benefits for as long as possible to increase the amount you’ll receive.

Early Retirement and the Social Security Spousal Benefit

If you begin collecting the spousal benefit before you reach full retirement age, the benefit is permanently reduced over your life time. Before electing this option, it’s important to understand the implications by having the reduced benefit so early on in your life.

Advantages for Married Couples and Social Security Benefits

If you’re a married couple and can’t afford to postpone receiving your social security benefits, you can use a strategy to help maximize the amount of social security benefits you receive over the long term.  The technique is called the “62/70 Strategy”, and it makes use of the social security spousal benefits.

The spouse who earned less over their lifetime will file for social security benefits at 62 while the higher earning spouse delays his or her benefits until the age of 70 when the maximum benefit will be received.  The higher earning spouse’s benefit will continue to grow.  If one of you should pass away, the smaller social security benefit will die off as well – leaving the survivor with the higher paying benefit.  When the higher-earning spouse reaches the age of 70, you drop the social security spousal benefits, and start collecting the larger benefit of the higher earning spouse.

Widows and Social Security Benefits

If your spouse passes away, you’re eligible for the spousal benefit from the age of 60.

If you begin receiving social security benefits before your spouse passes away, you will continue receiving whichever benefit is greater – your own social security benefit or the spousal benefit – but you can’t get both at the same time.

Need Social Security Assistance?

If you’re having a tough time trying to understand your Social Security benefits, your best resources are to visit www.ssa.gov or call your local Social Security office.  I had an instance where I had a question on Social Security benefits and wasn’t sure who to call.  Knowing no where else to turn, I called our local office and got to someone right away.  They were able to answer my question immediately – and it was a fairly complicated question.   Kudos to them!

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