When It Comes to Social Security, It Takes Two to Tango.

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Throughout their married lives, spouses face numerous financial decisions. A larger diamond engagement ring or a down payment on a house? One or two children? Take that job that pays more but requires a lot of business travel?

 

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However, few spouses I’ve met consider filing for Social Security benefits in the same category – a significant decision with significant ramifications. Even some advisors with whom I’ve worked for years continue to tell me that Social Security is straightforward and barely worth discussing with both spouses on the phone or in the office.

 

This is a grave error.

Yes, when someone reaches the age of 70, their own retirement benefit will be the highest. Yes, they will receive the lowest benefit if they file for benefits as soon as possible, at age 62 for retirement benefits or 52 for disability benefits.

However, this is not the optimal way to maximize Social Security benefits for married couples. Failure to coordinate when to file can result in thousands of dollars being lost.

 

Ensure That You Consider All Considerable Factors

To begin, you should consult with a financial advisor who will thoroughly examine your and your spouse’s situation, as no two situations are identical.

Individuals have unique birthdates, and the Social Security Administration uses them heavily when determining an individual’s full retirement age (FRA) and benefits. Age, work history, and income disparities between spouses have an effect on Social Security decisions.

Two individuals will have varying work histories, resulting in varying primary insurance amounts (PIAs) at their FRA. The PIA is the benefit you receive for deferring or delaying benefits until age 70. (Here is how that is determined.)

Single? Married? Divorced? Widowed? Benefits are affected by marital status. Death has an impact on survivors’ benefits.

How long are you going to live? 65, 75, or 90? Naturally, this is frequently unpredictable. However, you should be aware that life expectancy affects the total amount of Social Security benefits you and your spouse can expect over the course of your lifetimes.

 

Here’s a Deep Dive into the Social Security Sea

I was recently working with an advisor who was having difficulty with a couple’s case. In 2019, the husband applied for Social Security benefits. The wife, 64, had ceased employment but had not applied for Social Security.

 

The question was whether she could:

  • For the next three years and beyond, take a spousal benefit based on her husband’s benefit…
  • Then, at age (70), she can switch to her own benefit, which will almost certainly be higher due to the accumulation of Delayed Retirement Credits.
  • The filing strategy that the advisor believed was used is referred to as a restricted application. However, as a result of the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, the wife is ineligible to file a restricted application because she did not reach the age of 62 prior to Jan. 1, 2016.

I was able to assist the advisor in obtaining the answer – and possibly prevent his clients from making a costly mistake in the long run.

The wife is not entitled to a spousal benefit under her husband’s record in this case because her own benefit exceeds 50% of her husband’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA).

 

The Social Security planning tool that I use assessed all possible filing scenarios and concluded that:

  • Arrayed the wife’s available options
  • She was clearly directed to the month and year in which she should file.
  • The benefits they could expect, as well as benefits after one spouse dies, are charted month by month, year by year.

As a result, the optimal filing age for the wife is 65 in this case. That is two years before she reaches the mandatory retirement age. We suggested she take 24 months’ worth of reduced benefits to maximize her and her husband’s combined benefits. If the wife outlives her husband, she becomes eligible for survivor benefits on his record.

 

The Big Reveal Has the Potential to Astound Everyone

This is one – admittedly complicated – example of a couple’s strategy. This case demonstrates the critical nature of obtaining a broad perspective on all of the options available under the more than 2,700 Social Security rules.

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Waiting until you reach the age of 70 is not always the best strategy for maximizing your Social Security benefits. Each case is unique and distinct. Ascertain that you have a complete picture.

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