When to Start Taking Social Security If You’re Younger Than Your Spouse

You and your beloved are nearing your golden years. Your decades of hard work, sacrifices and smart investments are finally going to pay off.

And when it comes to Social Security benefits, you’re wondering what the best approach is. When should you take your benefits? When should your spouse?

While the world of Social Security is complicated no matter who you are, the water gets even murkier when there’s a significant age gap between you and your spouse.

Luckily, we’ve advised dozens of clients in this exact situation. Here’s what we recommend.

How Social Security Benefits Work for Married Couples

The first thing you need to know is there are three different types of Social Security benefits:

  • Retirement: What most people think of when they think of “Social Security benefits”; the amount is based on your average income over your 35 highest-earning years
  • Spousal: If you’re married, you’ll receive the higher of your own retirement benefit or an an amount equal to 50% of your spouse’s benefit.
  • Survivor: If your spouse dies, you’ll be eligible for this benefit in addition to your own retirement benefit under Social Security. The survivor benefit equals 100% of your deceased spouse’s benefit at your full retirement age.

When you’re married and apply for Social Security, you’ll automatically receive whichever benefit is higher: retirement or spousal. If you didn’t spend much time in the workforce, or if your spouse earned much more than you, it’ll be the latter.

You’re eligible for the spousal benefit if:

  • Your spouse has already started taking Social Security withdrawals
  • You’re at least 62 years old, or are caring for a child under 16

Note: If the older spouse hasn’t started taking their benefit yet, we recommend they wait until age 70, as benefits increase by 8% for each year waited after full retirement age. By doing that, they’ll receive the maximum benefit — as will the younger spouse, after the older one passes away.

When to Begin Social Security If You’re the Younger Spouse

So you’re 62 years old, and eligible for the spousal benefit — should you start taking withdrawals?

Many people would assume the answer is “no,” because taking benefits before reaching full retirement age (67, if you were born after 1960) means you’ll forever receive a reduced amount of benefits.

But, in our opinion, it’s a smart move for people who are at least 10 years younger than their spouse.

Here’s the grim reason why: Your spouse will probably pass away several years — if not decades — before you do. And when they do, you’ll qualify for the full survivors benefit so long as you’ve reached your full retirement age (no matter when you started taking your spousal benefit).

So you might as well take advantage of your spousal benefit as early as you can, and then switch to the survivors benefit when your spouse passes.

(Before taking that step, however, don’t forget about health insurance. Since you won’t be eligible for Medicare until age 65, you’ll need to ensure health insurance costs won’t eat away your entire benefit.)

How to Calculate Your Social Security Benefits

Everyone’s situation is different, so you should run the numbers before making any decisions.

Check your Social Security statement online, then use the Social Security Administration’s helpful online calculators:

You can also visit your local Social Security office or talk to your financial planner for more information.

If you’d like to discuss this, or any other financial topic, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.

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