Based on the emails and comments I receive, there is lots of confusion and uncertainty about how to maximize total Social Security retirement benefits for a married couple. The best strategies allow the couple to leave nothing on the table when collecting benefits now and in the future, including when one spouse dies. I have previously written about the key concepts of Social Security spousal benefits.
1. Because women live longer than men but tend to earn less, husbands should begin their Social Security retirement by claiming a spousal benefit.
2. Therefore, the wife should claim benefits as soon as she can (age 62) on her own earnings record and continue claiming her own Social benefit until her husband dies.
3. The husband should claim a spousal benefit based on his wife’s earnings record when he reaches his full retirement age (e.g., age 66).
4. When the husband turns 70, and assuming he was the higher lifetime wage earner, he claim his own retirement benefit and stops the spousal benefit.
5. If the husband dies before the wife (statistically likely), the wife then switches to a survivor’s benefit based on her husband’s record.
This strategy should maximize the total Social Security benefits received by the couple over their combined lifetimes.
This should work OK for us. I am four years older than my wife. When she turns 62, I will be 66 so she will claim her benefit, I will claim a spousal benefit (50% of her benefit) until I turn 70, at which time I will claim my own, maximized benefit . I will have to run the numbers to compare this strategy to the “claim and suspend” strategy in which I claim my own benefit at age 66, she claims a spousal benefit, then I suspend my benefit until I turn 70 which will increase my benefit by more than 30%.
Lots to think about but you can read more about spousal benefit strategies here.