6 Tips for Maximizing Social Security Benefits if You're Married

Navigating Social Security can be daunting, but using the right strategies can help you maximize benefits.
Updated April 11, 2024
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When planning for retirement, married couples face many tough financial decisions. One of the most important choices is how to get the most from Social Security benefits.

With the right strategy, the task can be a lot less daunting. Here are some tips couples can use to wring the most from their Social Security benefits.

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Get an estimate of your benefits

gunnar3000/Adobe social security benefits form

The quickest way to get an estimate of your future Social Security benefits is to head over to the Social Security Administration (SSA) website. When you create an account at SSA.gov, you can access your Social Security benefits estimate online.

Calculate your benefits based on claiming at various times between the ages of 62 and 70. That way, you will know where you stand financially in terms of your expected benefits.

As a general rule, the older you are when you first file for benefits — up to age 70 — the larger your monthly check will be.

Figure out who earns more

Kirsten Davis/peopleimages.com/Adobe senior couple reviewing bills

You should get estimates for both you and your spouse. This can influence how you should apply for benefits.

The Social Security Administration calculates your benefits based on the average of your 35 highest-earning years. If you worked for less than 35 years, the years you didn’t work will be entered as zeros and reduce your benefits.

Consider having the lower earner collect first

whyframeshot/Adobe asian senior couple checking bills

If you and your spouse are trying to determine who should file for Social Security first, it can be a good idea to start with the lower earner and have the higher earner wait to collect.

If the higher-earning spouse delays collecting, it can increase benefits for both members of the couple.

Eventually, the lower-earning spouse can apply for spousal benefits. Down the road, this person might also apply for increased survivors benefits due to the higher earner waiting to claim.

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Consider having both spouses wait until 70 to collect

Azeemud/peopleimages.com/Adobe senior couple reviewing bills using laptop

It makes even more sense — if you can manage it financially — for both spouses to wait until age 70 to collect.

For each year you delay claiming your benefits beyond your full retirement age — up to age 70 — your benefits will increase by 8%, according to the Social Security Administration.

If your health is bad, consider claiming at 62

Syda Productions/Adobe couple visiting senior patient at hospital

Despite the advantages of delaying claiming Social Security, there are times when it might not be your best option.

If you or a spouse struggle with serious health issues and you do not expect to live a long life, it might make sense to claim earlier. You can begin to collect Social Security as early as age 62.

Tapping into the income earlier can make sense for those who are unlikely to live well into their golden years.

Understand the drawback of working and collecting benefits

Nina L/peopleimages.com/Adobe senior couple consulting therapist at clinic

You can collect Social Security benefits while continuing to work. However, doing so might negatively impact the size of your monthly benefits — at least for a while — if you have not yet reached your full retirement age.

If you are collecting benefits while also continuing to work and have not reached your full retirement age, you’ll see a benefits reduction of $1 for every $2 you earn over an annual income threshold. For 2024, that threshold is $22,320.

However, the money that is withheld during this time does not disappear forever. Instead, your benefits will be recalculated higher once you reach full retirement age.

Bottom line

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Before you retire, make sure you have a strategy that can help you get the most from your Social Security benefits.

Making the most of such benefits is all about planning ahead. By taking the time to understand your options, you can enjoy a retirement that's financially secure.

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Author Details

Holly Humbert Holly is a writer who recognizes that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to personal finance. She is passionate about entrepreneurship, women in business, and financial literacy. With more than four years of experience, her work has been featured on MarketWatch and The Ways to Wealth.

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