If you're about to collect Social Security benefits, or even simply plan on doing so at some point, understanding how they affect your overall retirement plan is essential. But even if you're already familiar with the basics, there are some key differences to consider for married couples with Social Security. Learning how to take Social Security based on your marital status can help you make the best of your claims — and your benefits.
Social Security & Marital Status
If you're unmarried, you can claim your Social Security benefits based on your employment history. The amount you can collect is based on the number of credits you have accrued while working, as well as the Social Security taxes you have paid. The earnings are adjusted for inflation and are an average of the 35-year period when you earned the most.
When you're married, you can claim spousal benefits based on your partner's work history. To be eligible to collect, you need to be at least 62 and have been married for at least a year. If you have a child who's under 18, however, that one-year marriage requirement is waived.
If you're divorced or widowed, you may still qualify to collect benefits. You must be at least 62, have been married for at least 10 years with your ex and be unmarried when you submit your claim. If your ex-spouse has yet to claim their retirement benefits, you can still collect if you've been divorced for two years or more. If you are remarried, however, you're only eligible for the normal spousal benefits (detailed above) through your current partner.
How Much Will You Receive?
Spousal benefits are usually half of your partner's retirement benefit. You'll collect either your own benefit based on your credits, taxes and earnings, or half of your spouse's claim — whichever is larger. So let's say your credits-based benefit is $300 monthly and your spouse's is $900. In that case, you'll receive a $450 spousal benefit.
In the event you're widowed, you move over to survivor benefits, which are the same as what your spouse would have received if they were still living.
Deciding When to Take Benefits — Together
Depending on your situation, it might be worth holding off on collecting your Social Security in order to receive the highest benefits. You can claim benefits as early as 62, but that will cut your amount by about a quarter. You can collect your full benefit if you wait until your full retirement age, which is 66 for anyone born before 1955 and is set to gradually increase to 67 for anyone born after 1959. If you wait even longer, your benefit increases by 8 percent each year until you turn 70. Spousal benefits, however, do not receive the same increase.
In 2019, the most an individual at full retirement age can collect is $2,861 monthly, or $34,332 per year. So the maximum Social Security benefit for a married couple depends on the top earner's salary during the 35 years they earned the most and how long they waited to collect. Consider examining all of your available assets and income to determine the most appropriate time for each of you to claim your Social Security benefits.
Married couples with Social Security have different options to consider than individuals when preparing to claim their benefits. Knowing how your situation might affect your claims can help you and your partner make the most of your retirement.