! Social Security Strategies for Couples
William Reichenstein , CFA, holds the Pat and Thomas R. Powers Chair in Investment Management at Baylor University and is head of research at Social Security Solutions, Inc .
William Meyer is founder and CEO of Social Security Solutions Inc., a service that provides personalized recommendations as to when to claim Social Security benefits.


Charles M. from NY posted over 3 years ago:

Let's see, I'm 57 and my spouse is 59. I figure I'll need the two+ years before he turns 62 to digest this to make an informed decision on what, if anything needs to be done then.

Our PIAs are less than $50 apart so I suspect some of the maneuvers discussed here are less relevant - and some may be even more critical.

There's no particular advantage in spousal benefits before we reach full retirement age, but it appears it may be useful to have the older claim-and-suspend at full retirement age and have the younger claim spousal from full retirement age till 70 and then convert to their own PIA with the older having started at 70 two years earlier. 'twill be much spreadsheet fun!

An article (or at least a sidebar) on AnyPIA, SSA's for-real tool (and a very complex tool) calculating benefits would be helpful. It's supposedly the same code they use in the office. It's about the only way to get an estimate of PIA if you have or are planning stopping work before claiming benefits.

P Chiaravalli from MI posted over 3 years ago:

My retirement income is adequate (without claiming my own SS benefit) to fund my life until age 70. My main concern is longevity risk. I am 6 months older than my wife and made more income. She took her benefit at 62 and now at FRA I have taken 1/2 of hers. I will claim my own benefit at 70 and she will then claim 1/2 of mine which will be slightly more than her full benefit. This has been easy to do and seems to meet our needs. Could I have done better?

Robert Mann from MI posted over 3 years ago:

The text states: The full retirement age for survivor’s benefits is 66 for someone born in 1945 to 1957. It increases two months per year thereafter and is 67 for someone born in 1962 or later.

My calculations show it to be 67 for someone born in 1963 or later. Can you identify the disconnect?

Randy T from Delaware posted over 3 years ago:

Interestingly, I am FRA and my wife is 64 and 8 months. Being the larger wage earner we plan to file for her reduced benefits, since 66 is also her FRA, and I file for Spousal against her wage earned benefit. Then I would file for my full benefit at age 70 thus giving her max in case of my death. Question is my 1/2 Spousal on her actual reduced amount benefit or on the FRA amount. Table from SS gives her factor as .911 and corresponding Spouse as .444 ... but on what benefit amount?

Bob G from CO posted over 3 years ago:

I must question the following sentence from the claiming strategy example: "In Strategy 2, Peggy begins benefits in four years, when she turns 62, of $900 a month and Mark begins spousal benefits only at that time of $450 a month, half of her primary insurance amount".

I believe Mark's $450 should be $600, half of Peggy's PIA; unreduced because Mark has attained full retirement age. Correct me if I'm wrong!

Herbert Ng from CA posted over 3 years ago:

I wish this article was out when I advised my sister as when to begin her SS benefits. We decided to claim benefits at age 62, not knowing if SS would last.

If my sis dies before age 84, we made the correct economical decision. [Other factors, like budget, timing, etc., may affect your decision.] If she lives past 84, it may have been better to delay any benefits until age 66, at which time she would do a spousal benefit. From age 66 to 70, her own delayed benefit would increase 32 percent, 8 percent per year [born in 1943 or later]. After age 70 there would be no more increases. So, at age 70, she would claim benefits based on her own earnings.

Norm L from Massachusetts posted over 3 years ago:

My wife and I both at FRA of 66 initiated a strategy early this year with me as the higher earner filing and suspending with her claiming a spousal benefit of 50% of my FRA amount. After reading this article we decided to switch to plan B with her; dropping her spousal benefit and claiming her full benefit since she just turned 67 with me simultaneously claiming a spousal benefit against her while leaving my benefit suspended.

The local SS office accepted this but it was then kicked out by the Boston office who stated once either spouse has made an election to receive a spousal claim against the other's suspended benefit this cannot be reversed as we tried to do. We were offered the possibility of proceeding with plan B provided we pay back all money received to date from my wive'e spousal benefit.( this is allowed if less then 12 months since claim started)

Running the cumulative figures based on my life expectancy showed our original plan is now the better available option so we have reversed her claim for her full benefit. Fortunately we don't need cash flow for living expenses but we did miss the opportunity for maximizing life time accumulation of benefits.

So choose the right spousal claim strategy from the start you only get one shot.

Mian from FL posted over 3 years ago:

I started my SS at full retirement age about 5 years ago. My wife will start her SS next March at FRA. My current SS amount is approximately $2500 and if my wife chose to receive 50% of spousal benefits, will she get approximately $1250 Or would it be 50% OF the amounts I started with at my FRA? Her own benefits if started in March will be $1060. We are trying to decide whether she should take the restricted route and differ her own SS until she turns 70 or not?
Your response will be greatly appreciated.

Kenton Kelly from MN posted over 3 years ago:

Excellent series of articles on Social Security. While not light reading, I commend the authors for explaining this difficult, confusing and often misunderstood topic in such a succinct and straightforward manner.

I, too, am interested in the response to the apparent discrepancy that Bob G mentions in his previous post.

Bob G from CO posted over 3 years ago:

The strategy of Mark and Peggy, based on their assumptions of their life expectancies, provides an opportunity to discuss some changes they might make if things change in their financial or health conditions. If Mark came to expect an earlier death, he might wish to start benefits before accumulating his maximum delayed retirement credits at age 70.

On the brighter side, suppose at age 70, Mark expects live longer than his original assumption of age 80. He has already achieved the maximum possible benefit for himself and thus for Peggy’s expected years as a widow. But Peggy, now 66, can consider suspending her payments, and accumulating delayed retirement credits herself. When she reaches 70, her resumed payments would reflect BOTH early retirement reductions, a factor of 0.75 (because she started at 62) AND delayed retirement credits, a factor of 1.32 (because she suspended). Of course, this suspension would be worthwhile only if the uplift pays back the payments foregone. The time period of the uplift is from Peggy’s age 70 until Mark’s death, because after that, Peggy’s benefit jumps to Mark’s larger amount. Mark would have to live to age 86.5 for this to break even, and the time value of money also argues against suspending (payments now are better than the same payments later).

This mid-course suspension for Peggy is probably not a great idea, but let’s suppose she does suspend at age 66, and in a couple of years she wishes she had not. No problem! She can cancel the suspension, collect a lump sum of the payments she waived, and resume the same payment. The only sacrifice is perhaps some inflation increases during that couple of years.

John Samsell from WA posted over 3 years ago:

If we listen to younger age groups such as our children and nieces and nephews that are paying our present benefits, there is concern about the stability of the Social Security System. Based on that concern, Should people take that into consideration on how long to put off their application Social Security?? ie: 66 vs 70? Do you trust the Government to do the right thing should their finances fail like Detroit, Stockton, Illinois??, 17trillion dollar debt, reduced work force to support Medicare and Social Security. Government that is paralyzed with political insecurity??? I say, If you have reached full retirement age, take the benefit now and eliminate some of the instability!!

Mark Gaines from CA posted over 3 years ago:

Ideally, Table 4 should include a time value of money to determine the highest cumulative lifetime benefit for each age . Its not clear from the text if it does.

Tim Soles from TX posted over 3 years ago:

My wife and I are pursuing Strategy 2 since I am five years older and have double the PIA (much like the example). However, I suggest that everyone who hasn't commited to a strategy yet make their own spreadsheet calculator based on the article (good job showing the calcs). You can then set up as many cases as you want. As in all things in life, it all comes down to when each of you perish. So, while my wife and I are pursuing Strategy 2, if we both die at age 85, it would be no different NPV(if I recall correctly when I did this calc) than if we both took benefits at FRA. In the end, what I made the decision on was that: 1)we don't really need SS to live a good life,at least until I am 70, and 2)I wanted to leave my wife a good annuity after I die, assuming average life expectancies (when she is likely to really need it).

George Bradshaw from NC posted over 3 years ago:

I have been told that if you start your SS withdrawals too early, say at age 65, and want the higher amount allowed at, say age 70, you can pay the full amount received to date back to the SSA and start receiving benefits at the higher level. Certainly would make sense if you expect a much longer life time than originally expected, or were not adequately advised. Is this something worth discussing further?

Jack from OH posted over 3 years ago:

Excellent detailed article but does not take in the reality of sitting down with the uninterested or untrained social security personnel. You attempt to explain to them how you want to claim and you realize they have no idea how the system works. They keep saying the computer knows what is best for you. They cannot even explain how the computer filed for you.When you do file do not underestimate the incompetence of the social security personnel.

David Dudley from CT posted over 3 years ago:

Excellent article but It is missing a key point that neds to be factored in. Social Security is an annuitized insurance policy. What would havebnee n a ggod discussion is the repayment of principle verses the cash flow. I am talking about he facdt and it is in your annual statement is how much principal in your account . Since any remaining PRINCIPAL GOES BACK INTO THE POOL YOU WANT TO ENSURE THAT PICK THE OPTIMUM CASH FLOW PLUS THE CAPAITAL DRAW DOWN.

David Dudley from CT posted over 3 years ago:

Hope fully you will have an article when one partner is on Soc sec disability and the other is not.

Ken Owenby from GA posted over 3 years ago:

I've read the article once, slowly and deliberately, and am in the process again of doing so. So far I have a couple of "knee-jerk" reactions. As an investor, I'm interested and intrigued that couples should adopt a "strategy" in hopes of maximizing their social security benefits. However as a citizen and a taxpayer, I think this highlights what is wrong with the system. The average couple should not have to hire a financial consultant or resort to complicated spreadsheet or software calculations just to determine how to draw social security. I would speculate thousands of couples have probably adopted the "wrong" strategy in collecting their benefits, due to the complex nature of the current system. Although it might be to my detriment, I would advocate reform to simplify the process. People that have worked most of their adult lives should draw on their own record, with the provision that when one spouse dies a change can be made if that's beneficial -- period. Also, I had a though similar to David Dudley's. Although social security is technically a tax and cannot be thought of as an "investment", I too am concerned with getting out what I've put in. At retirement I'll probably have my own spreadsheet set up to track my annual "return" in relation to what I've put in over my working life!

Mark Landt from CO posted over 3 years ago:

The X-factor in all of this is that no one knows how long they are going to live. Actuarial tables are fine, but they mean nothing if your body decides not to follow them. After 40 years in medicine, I have seen a lot of people not follow them.

George from WI posted over 2 years ago:

Best article on this subject that I've been able to find and I've been looking for a while.

Christopher Viscomi from VT posted about 1 year ago:

I may have this wrong, but I think file and suspend is now not permitted, being disallowed as part of the compromise with raising the debt ceiling in October,2015.

D Randall Spydell from CO posted about 1 year ago:

I also believe that the spousal "file and suspend" strategy is no longer permitted. In typical fashion, the Congress has acted to make this provision and the rules surrounding it more complicated and obscure rather than clearer and more universally applicable. Ask anyone born before or after 1954 if they understand what happened. This article should be revised to clarify all this.

Eric Tarini from MA posted about 1 year ago:

I hope you know by now (11/13/2015 as I write this) that people born after 1953 will NOT have the flexibility to implement many of the spousal strategies that have been available to older claimants since 2000 (though not commonly used until the last several years).

There should be a warning sent to all AAII members that the rules changed dramatically when the recent budget bill was signed into law last week, otherwise a lot of people will be extremely disappointed. As it was, my wife and I were lucky enough to still qualify (I went to my Social Security office to file-and-suspend yesterday), but we would have lost about $60,000 in benefits if we were a few months younger. Since we retired at the end of last year, there's no way we would have been able to make up that loss.

Eric Tarini

Tony Hausner from MD posted about 1 year ago:

CFPB’s new tool to help you plan for retirement, that is Social Security decisions.


Charles Rotblut from IL posted about 1 year ago:

File and suspend and restricted applications are being phased out. The changes are discussed in the November 11, 2015 Investor Update.


john bates from california posted about 1 year ago:

My spouse and I are both 78 years old. My SS benefits are substantially greater than hers, and it's my understanding that upon my death she will get my full benefits. she will, of course, no longer receive her benefits.
We have a disabled adult son, and it is also my understanding upon my death that he will also receive my SS benefits.
Question: Will he receive my benefits during the time that my spouse is also receiving these benefits?
Thanks you.

Thomas from IL posted about 1 year ago:

My wife & I are both FYA. My wife is receiving a government pension that is of an amount that when ss is adjusted, she will not qualify. Can I file to receive her spousal benefits and then switch to mine at age 70?

Thank you.

Charles Rotblut from IL posted about 1 year ago:


I would speak to a financial adviser with expertise on Social Security given your government pension.


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