Social Security Benefits for Married Couples

Social Security benefits are just one of the benefits offered to those who are officially married in the United States. Without the official record of marriage, the individuals will continue to collect their personal benefits as scheduled and will not be entitled to any of their spouse's. However, once a couple is married, the two should begin planning for Social Security benefits that will maximize their payout based on a few significant factors such as income and age.

Claim Highest Benefit

A spouse is entitled to a Social Security payment not only based on his or her own required benefits but those of the partner. The amount of the benefit depends on age. If the individual is 62 or younger, he or she can claim either personal benefits or decide to take 35 percent of the benefit available to the spouse. At times, this sum may be higher than the personal benefit, particularly if one spouse did not earn and income prior to retirement. If the individual is over 66 years of age, that person can claim up to 50 percent of the spouse's eligible benefit. This figure can again be higher than the expected personal benefit if one spouse earned a much larger salary than the other.

Claim Benefit Upon Death

When a person is a widow or widower, he or she is entitled to 100 percent of the possible benefit for the deceased spouse. Therefore, if the widow or widower is entitled to a lower benefit than the deceased spouse, that person can simply choose to collect the amount of the deceased instead of his or her personal benefit. If the two are not officially married prior to the death of one partner, this benefit is not available and not recognized by law.

Begin Payments Earlier

Since an individual is eligible for a portion of a spouse's Social Security benefits prior to the age of 66, that individual may have an incentive to begin collecting the income earlier than expected. For example, imagine Jane's expected benefits at age 66 will be $1,200 a month. Her spouse, John, will receive benefits of $2,000 a month. She will not elect to collect the 50 percent she would be eligible upon reaching retirement age. However, for the four years prior to the time she turns 66, she can collect 35 percent of John's benefits. This means she could collect $700 a month for four years then begin her personal Social Security benefit schedule.

Claim Other Retirement Benefits

Social Security benefits are not the only retirement benefits that favor spouses. When a retirement account, such as an IRA, is left behind after death, a spouse will have the most options when listed as a beneficiary. For example, a spouse can roll the account over into his own or her own retirement savings. A spouse will also have the option of receiving these payments in full within five years of the death of the account holder in some situations. For these reasons, marriage presents a number of key benefits upon retirement.

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