Social Security Claiming Strategies for Couples

Daniel Penzing
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When Should I File?

Many people consider filing for early benefits because they think they are entitled to die earlier than age 65. But that is not the case.

Here are some of the key things to remember when a spouse wants to file at 62:

A husband and wife can claim their Social Security benefits based on their own earnings, one spouse’s earnings and the other spouse’s earnings, or on one spouse’s earnings if the other spouse is at least 62.

If a spouse is 62 or older by the end of the year, that spouse may be eligible for a higher benefit payment by filing for retirement benefits.

Survivor Benefits

One of the biggest retirement or survivorship questions for couples is whether a surviving spouse is entitled to their spouse’s Social Security benefits. Essentially, if you are married and are under the age of 66, you do not have any right to collect your spouse’s Social Security benefits if they pass away.

So if your spouse retires at 62, you won’t be able to collect their Social Security benefits.

There are a couple of exceptions to this rule, and together with the death of a spouse can provide you with a Social Security loophole. The exception to the rule is if your spouse passes away from a disease that is either chronic or terminal (you can find the full list of diseases through the SSA website). But only if the survivors are caring for a child under the age of 16 or a disabled child of any age.

The Social Security loophole refers to the option of collecting your spouse’s retirement benefits up to a one time lump sum payment in a specific amount when you are between the ages of 60 and 62. If you receive this lump sum benefit, you then forfeit the right to collect any Social Security benefits.

However, this age limits apply to both the deceased spouse and the surviving spouse. So if the surviving spouse is under the age of 62, they too would be ineligible.

Restricted Applications

There are two social security claiming strategies which can save married couples and those eligible for Social Security benefits big money. First, is the restricted application strategy. Although the benefits are lower, they usually begin at age 62 instead of age 66 or 67 if you wait.

Another strategy which you might want to consider, is what it refers to as conditional claiming. This strategy involves filing for benefits sometime after your Full Retirement Age. If you FIL/claim earlier than your Full Retirement Age, the Social Security Administration will watch your social security payments. Should you need additional funds to care for yourself or your spouse, the Social Security Administration will provide the funds you need. But just in case you live for an extended period of time it won’t penalized you for drawing the extra benefits.

It is important to note before you decide to take advantage of either strategy or any other strategy you use, it’s crucial to hire an experienced Social Security Attorney in order to ensure you have a successful claim.

Summary

Individuals in same-sex marriages are equally entitled to Social Security retirement benefits as opposite-sex married couples. Since 2010, Social Security rules have generally treated same-sex spouses as married for purposes of determining eligibility for spousal and survivor benefits.

The law of your state of residence at the time you apply for benefits will determine whether you are considered married for Social Security purposes. If you are, then you can collect benefits based on your spouse’s contributions.

But if your situation is more complicated, or if you live in one of the 14 states that does not recognize same-sex marriage and you were married in a state that does recognize same-sex marriage, then the rules can be more complicated and you may have to take action to receive and keep your benefits.

Social Security uses the term “spouse” to mean someone who was legally married according to state law, and it generally looks to state law to determine whether a marriage is valid.

Social Security recognizes same-sex marriages that are valid under the laws of the state where they were entered into, and it recognizes civil unions and domestic partnerships that were entered into in a state that recognizes them.

In addition, Social Security recognizes marriages and civil unions from foreign countries if the marriage would have been recognized under state law in the United States.