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Retirement Planning > Social Security

Three ways couples can get the most from Social Security

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We’ve always argued that seniors should put off claiming Social Security benefits as long as possible in order to claim the largest payout. U.S. News and World Report argues that married couples, or couples who have been together at least 10 years, can combine their working records as long as they both live. Here are three ways the magazine says couples can maximize their Social Security benefits.

  1. Utilize spousal payments. According to U.S. News, spouses can claim up to 50 percent of the higher earner’s check, but they should wait until full-retirement age if they want to claim the full 50 percent. If, however, the spouse is caring for someone under 16, or someone who receives Social Security disability benefits, the spousal benefit won’t be reduced by claiming early. Furthermore, if 50 percent of the higher earner’s benefits is less than the lower earner’s own retirement benefits, Social Security will pay the retirement benefit instead of the spousal benefit.
  2. “Claim and suspend.” The lower earner can’t begin receiving benefits, until his or her spouse files for benefits, the magazine writes. However, workers who reach full retirement age can claim benefits, and then suspend payments. This way, the lower earner can begin collecting spousal benefits, while the higher earner continues working toward the delayed retirement credit at age 70. Delaying retirement until 70 can increase Social Security checks by as much as 8 percent, according to U.S. News.
  3. Claim twice. If both spouses work, they can claim benefits twice, once as a spouse, and again based on their own earnings. The magazine cites research from Center for Retirement Research that shows this strategy works especially well for high-income couples with relatively equal earnings.