Being married isn’t always easy. It takes compromise and a lot of work. And being a married couple while retired can pose a whole new set of unique challenges, from striking the balance between spending time together and alone time to managing your money.
And speaking of the latter, there’s a good chance that Social Security will end up being an important source of income for you in retirement, so you’ll want to get your filing decisions just right. And that means steering clear of the following mistakes you could end up making when you’re part of a married couple.
1. Having both spouses file for benefits at the same time
You’re entitled to a monthly Social Security benefit as long as you earn enough work credits in your lifetime. Generally, if you held down a job for at least 10 years, you’ll be entitled to a benefit of your own.
You have the option to claim your benefits at full retirement age (FRA), which is when you’re entitled to collect them in full, or sooner, beginning at age 62. But if you file ahead of FRA, your monthly benefit will be reduced.
You may be inclined to file for Social Security at the same time as your spouse. But in reality, you may be better served staggering your filings.
For example, if you and your spouse are each entitled to a benefit, you may find that you’re able to claim one benefit early to get money coming in and hold off on that second benefit, thereby minimizing the hit that comes with claiming Social Security before FRA. There’s also the option to delay your filing past FRA for a higher monthly benefit. If one of you goes that route, it could offset an early filing by the other. These are all options you’ll want to discuss — extensively — before making your decision, and while you may find that filing simultaneously makes sense for you, don’t assume that’s the right move off the bat.
2. Attempting to grow a spousal benefit
If you never worked and therefore can’t claim a Social Security benefit on your own earnings record, you may be entitled to spousal benefits equal to half of what your spouse collects. But don’t fall into the trap of delaying your spousal benefit past FRA, because unlike a benefit based on your own work record, spousal benefits can’t grow. The most you can collect is 50% of the amount your spouse is entitled to.
3. Forgetting about survivors benefits
If your spouse has health issues and is unlikely to live a long life, you may be inclined to encourage them to file for Social Security early. That way, they can enjoy that money — or you can do so together. But if your spouse is the much higher earner of the two of you and you expect to outlive them substantially, that route may not be the best. The reason? Once your spouse passes, you’ll be entitled to survivors benefits equal to 100% of the benefit your spouse collected, and so having your spouse slash that amount by filing early isn’t necessarily a wise choice.
Plan carefully when you’re married Being married gives you more options when it comes to claiming Social Security, but it can also make things trickier. Avoid the above mistakes so you and your spouse can enjoy retirement to the fullest — whatever that means to you individually and collectively.