NORMAN — Dear Savvy Senior, I’ve heard that there are strategies available that can help married couples increase their Social Security benefits when they retire. My wife and I are approaching retirement age and would like to understand these options. What can you tell us?
— Getting Prepared
If you’re willing to wait to full retirement age and beyond, married couples have several claiming options that could actually add tens of thousands of dollars to your Social Security checks over your retirement. Here’s what you should know.
Waiting strategy: Before we go over the different benefit boosting options for married couples, it’s important to know that the most commonly used strategy for increasing retirement benefits is to delay taking them.
While workers can start collecting their Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, postponing them to full retirement age (which is 66 if you were born between 1943 and 1954), or better yet to age 70, can make a big difference.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re eligible for a $1,200 monthly benefit at age 62. By waiting to 66, your monthly benefit would increase to $1,600. And by delaying to age 70, you would boost your benefit a whopping 76 percent to $2,112. Delaying also will increase your wife’s survivor benefit if you die first. Waiting, however, beyond age 70 will not increase your benefits.
Claim and suspend: In addition to waiting, Social Security also offers two other little-known strategies for married couples, but you must be at least full retirement age (currently 66) to use them.
The first one is called “claim and suspend” (see ssa.gov/retire2/suspend.
htm) that allows a worker at full retirement age to file for Social Security so their spouse can begin collecting a spousal benefit but asks to receive their own benefit later.
This is best suited for one-earner couples where one spouse worked full-time and the other spouse did not work outside the home or did not work long enough to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.