RETIREMENT & SOCIAL SECURITY PLANNING
As you begin planning for retirement, you’ll face many decisions that will impact your financial future including when and how to file for Social Security benefits. It’s a complex choice and generally a permanent one so knowing all the elements is key to maximizing your Social Security income between yourself and your spouse. Generally, a husband or wife is entitled to receive the higher of his or her own Social Security retirement benefit (a worker’s benefit) or as much as 50% of what his or her spouse is entitled to receive at full retirement age (a spousal benefit). But here’s the catch–under Social Security rules, a husband or wife who is eligible to file for spousal benefits based on his or her spouse’s record cannot do so until his or her spouse begins collecting retirement benefits. However, there is an exception–someone who has reached full retirement age but who doesn’t want to begin collecting retirement benefits right away may choose to file an application for retirement benefits, then immediately request to have those benefits suspended, so that his or her eligible spouse can file for spousal benefits.
The file-and-suspend strategy is most commonly used when one spouse has much lower lifetime earnings, and thus will receive a higher retirement benefit based on his or her spouse’s earnings record than on his or her own earnings record. Using this strategy can potentially boost retirement income in three ways: 1) the spouse with higher earnings who has suspended his or her benefits can accrue delayed retirement credits at a rate of 8% per year (the rate for anyone born in 1943 or later) up until age 70, thereby increasing his or her retirement benefit by as much as 32%; 2) the spouse with lower earnings can immediately claim a higher (spousal) benefit; and 3) any survivor’s benefit available to the lower-earning spouse will also increase because a surviving spouse generally receives a benefit equal to 100% of the monthly retirement benefit the other spouse was receiving (or was entitled to receive) at the time of his or her death.
Another strategy that can be used to increase household income for retirees is to have one spouse file for spousal benefits first, and then switch to his or her own higher retirement benefit later.
Once a spouse reaches full retirement age and is eligible for a spousal benefit based on his or her spouse’s earnings record and a retirement benefit based on his or her own earnings record, he or she can choose to file a restricted application for spousal benefits, then delay applying for retirement benefits on his or her own earnings record (up until age 70) in order to earn delayed retirement credits. This may help to maximize survivor’s income as well as retirement income, because the surviving spouse will be eligible for the greater of his or her own benefit or 100% of the spouse’s benefit.
Every situation is unique, and these strategies may not be appropriate for all couples. When deciding when to apply for Social Security benefits, make sure to consider a number of scenarios that take into account factors such as spouses’ ages, estimated benefit entitlements and life expectancies. As always, we are more than happy to look at your specific situation to help maximize your benefits or discuss any questions you may have.
Very truly yours,
TRS CPA Group, P.A.