Considerations for Married Couples Claiming Social Security Benefits

If you are a married couple approaching retirement, no matter how long you’ve been married, you’ve weathered both great joys and storms. To best enjoy each other’s company in your retirement years, it’s essential to have a holistic retirement plan. And if you’re like most American couples, one important aspect of your joint retirement plan is the use of Social Security benefits.

Today, we’re going to address some of the top considerations for married couples claiming Social Security benefits.

When Should I Start Collecting Social Security Benefits?

Timing plays a big role for couples when they are planning to start collecting Social Security. Waiting to collect benefits until you reach your Full Retirement Age (FRA) can make a big difference in the amount of spousal benefits that you can claim. Your financial advisor can help you to determine the optimal time to begin claiming Social Security benefits.

How Does Circumstance Impact the Benefits I can Collect?

All couples arrive at retirement with a unique set of circumstances that must be taken into account in order to maximize benefits through their timing. Here are some common situations to consider:

Long Life Expectancy and Even Incomes

If both you and your spouse have a long life expectancy and have maintained similar yearly earnings throughout your careers, a strategy that involves waiting as long as possible before claiming could help you to maximize your Social Security benefits. In general, the longer you wait to claim your benefit, the better the payout.

Long Life Expectancy, Uneven Incomes

In the case that both you and your spouse are planning for long life expectancies, but one of you has earned significantly more than the other, the higher-earning spouse might delay their collection while the lower-earning spouse collects their own earned benefits. Once the higher-earning spouse has begun collecting their benefits, the lower-earning spouse may switch from their own benefit and apply for spousal benefits instead. 

Other Circumstances

There are, of course, other combinations of life expectancy and income comparisons to consider. In some cases, it makes sense to begin collecting Social Security benefits immediately at age 62. In others, a delay is advisable. As always, your financial advisor is the best person to ask in regards to how your unique circumstance impacts your when to claim benefits.

What Other Factors Might Impact my Claim and Benefits?

There are other factors that influence when and how you and your spouse should claim Social Security to maximize your benefits. 

Updates to “File and Suspend”

You may have heard of the “file and suspend” strategy where the higher earning spouse waits to collect their benefit while the lower earning spouse cashes in on the spousal benefit. If you’ve considered this strategy for your own filings, you’ll likely need to think again.

In November 2015, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act, which got rid of the potential for the higher earning spouse to “file and suspend.” Unless you and your spouse were born before 1954 or turned 62 before 2015, this option is off the table.


Depending on your income during retirement, you will have to pay taxes on your benefits. A formula that determines your Provisional Income (PI) determines the level of taxable Social Security benefits you are receiving.


Your healthcare, which may include Medicare premiums, may be taken out of your Social Security benefits. Depending on the Medicare plan and other healthcare expenses you have, this can affect how you plan your Social Security benefits collection.

Government Employment

Lastly, if you or your spouse are/were employed by a governmental organization, your Social Security benefits (both from benefits you earned or spousal benefits) can be reduced to reflect the pension you receive or for not paying Social Security taxes as a government employee.

Bottom Line: Your Situation is Unique

There are so many factors that contribute to you and your spouse’s optimal time for claiming Social Security benefits. Thankfully, you do not need to navigate these waters on your own! Our CFP® professionals know the questions that need to be asked in order to get you on the right track to get the most out of your Social Security benefits.

To learn more about retirement planning and Social Security, contact us today for a complimentary consultation!