3 Social Security Strategies for Married Couples to Consider

Being married in retirement can be a challenge when you're both used to holding down jobs. Suddenly, there's a lot more togetherness -- and a lot of free time on both of your hands.

On the plus side, you may be less likely to get bored in retirement if you have a partner to spend some of your downtime with. And being married can also be advantageous from a Social Security perspective -- especially if both you and your spouse will each be entitled to a monthly benefit based on your respective work records. If that's the case, here are a few filing strategies you should consider.

Two people looking at documents.

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1. Have the lower earner file early and the higher earner file on time

When Social Security calculates what it calls your "full retirement benefit" based on your earnings history, the figure it comes up with is what you'd get if you claimed benefits at your full retirement age (FRA). For anyone who hasn't retired yet, that's 66, 67, or 66 plus some months, depending on the year you were born.

Now, you become eligible to sign up for Social Security as soon as you turn 62. But filing prior to your FRA will mean accepting a reduced benefit for life. For each month early you file, the size of your monthly checks shrinks by a fraction of a percent.

On the other hand, claiming Social Security early means getting your money sooner, and guarantees you'll wind up cashing more monthly checks from the program overall. That can help enable you to enjoy your retirement more in its early stages.

As such, one filing strategy to consider is having the partner who has generally been the lower earner -- whichever one of you that is -- file for Social Security early, and have the other file at their FRA. That way, you're not cutting the larger of your two household benefit checks -- and cutting the smaller one may be less detrimental to your long-term finances.

2. Have the lower earner file on time and the higher earner file late

You may not want to accept any shaving down of your monthly Social Security income -- or your spouse's -- particularly if you don't have a ton of retirement savings. If that's the case for you, what you may want to do is have the lower earner file at their FRA, while the higher earner delays their filing past their FRA. For each month you delay your claim past your FRA (up until you turn 70), your monthly Social Security benefit gets a 0.67% bump. That adds up to an 8% boost for each year you postpone filing.

3. Have both the lower earner and the higher earner file late

One tricky thing about retirement is that you have no idea how long you'll live. And while you may be rooting for a longer life, that could pose a problem from a financial perspective.

Let's say you enter retirement with a nest egg of $800,000. If you could know right off the bat that you'll need that money to last 18 years, that would put you in a very different position than you'd be in if your nest egg had to last for 29 years.

That's why you and your spouse may decide that you should both delay filing for Social Security for as long as possible. If both of you boost the size of your monthly benefits with delayed retirement credits, you'll have that much more financial flexibility throughout retirement. And you may also have a lot less stress.

When you're married and both you and your spouse are eligible for Social Security based on your individual work histories, you have more strategic options for how to take advantage of the program. These are just three routes you can consider. Talk things through thoroughly with your spouse, and weigh your choices in the context of your overall financial situation to see what plan makes the most sense for you.

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