Couples can get more out of their Social Security benefits by timing which spouse files first and ensuring that the higher earner delays benefits until age 70, said certified financial planner Michael Kitces on Thursday at the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) conference in Chicago.
“There’s an interplay between individual, spousal and survivor benefits,” said Kitces, a partner and director of research at Pinnacle Advisory Group in Columbia, Md., and an AdvisorOne contributor. “Couples should look at delaying the higher earner’s benefits as long as possible, so they’re looking at starting benefits at age 70.”
Age 70 is the “hard wall,” Kitces said, because there are no break-even benefits for delays past that age, and therefore no additional benefits.
Spouses can claim a benefit based on 50% of the worker’s primary insurance amount (PIA) as early as age 62, and there is no benefit to the spouse of delaying past the full retirement age of 66 with the spousal benefit, Kitces said.
Even divorced spouses are eligible for spousal benefits, he noted, with marriages that lasted at least 10 years. To collect, a person must currently be unmarried and can apply as long as the ex-spouse is at least 62. If there are multiple ex-spouses, the Social Security recipient can choose the highest earner’s benefit.
Kitces recommended a “file and suspend” strategy for a married couple, meaning the higher earner files for Social Security at age 66 so the spouse can start claiming benefits, and then the higher earner suspends their own individual benefit until age 70.
“It allows you to turn on the spigot for your spouse’s benefits, at full retirement age, and then you can suspend and continue working until 70,” Kitces said. “If your spouse can get fee benefits along the way, it’s a good deal.”
A classic file-and-suspend scenario looks like this, Kitces said:
–Darren is a 66-year-old at full retirement age with a PIA of $1,800 per month.
–His wife Julie is also 66 and at full retirement age but not eligible for her own retirement benefit.
–Julie can claim $900 per month in a spousal benefit.
–Darren can delay benefits to age 70.
–If Darren dies first, his increased benefit raises Julie’s survivor benefit
Kitces warned advisors at the NAPFA conference that many administrators at Social Security offices may be unaware of the file-and-suspend scenario. He recommended that couples when filing come armed with the correct Social Security forms.
The NAPFA national conference 2012 is taking place May 8 to 11 at the Hilton Chicago. For those who can’t attend the event, NAPFA National 2012 can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NAPFA, or at #NAPFA2012.
Read Social Security Secret: Advisor’s Dogged Pursuit Bears Fruit for Clients at AdvisorOne.