There are a handful of ways you can boost Social Security spousal benefits. The most obvious is to delay taking benefits until age 70, a move you should really consider if you or your spouse’s health is good. Each year you delay adds about 7% to the eventual benefit. That can really add up.
A less obvious idea is “The Do-Over.” This is when you took benefits early and now regret that move. Why? Because you realize that you could have waited to start collecting and, by so doing, your monthly retirement income would be much higher.
To take advantage of the “do-over,” you have to pay back all the money you received from SSI. But you don’t have to pay any interest or penalty. You have to do the math of course and make some assumptions as to how long you’re going to live in order to know if it’s a good deal for you. (The longer you think you or your spouse are going to live, the better this works.) If you or your spouse does live a long “SSI check-cashing” life, this could really pay off.
Neal’s Notes: Since this post was published there have been sweeping changes to claiming strategies. Make sure you stay updated Pilgrim.
An ever more obscure idea is to “File and Suspend.” This is a fantastic idea if one spouse makes more money than the other.
Let’s assume you are the “big dog.” You bring home most of the bacon. You file for benefits when you reach full retirement age, and once you do, your spouse files for spousal benefits. You file to suspend your benefits, but your spouse keeps collecting. Later on, probably when you reach 70, you’ll start taking benefits but they will be much higher then because they kept growing.
Very few people take advantage of this and it’s a shame. They are leaving money on the table. Of course, if everyone takes advantage of this, the Social Security system will be broke much quicker, so my suggestion is to get in while the getting is good.
I knew you’d like that one. Here’s one more for the road: Let’s say you and your spouse both work and are good earners. You stop working and collect Social Security based on your own employment history. You spouse stays at work and delays claiming SSI benefits.
At full retirement age, your spouse puts in for spousal benefits based on your SSI payments. The beauty here is that your spouse is going to get ½ of what you receive AND their benefits are going to continue to grow. At 70, they’ll stop getting their spousal benefit and start collecting their full amount. If your spouse then dies, you’ll collect their higher social security benefit. This is sort of like getting life insurance for retirees for free.
You might spend time worrying about how much money you need to retire. But are you thinking strategically about your Social Security benefit?
What has been your strategy (or what is your plan for the future)?