By Rob Kron, Managing Director, BlackRock
As if you really needed another reason to thank your spouse, here it is: When it comes to Social Security, your beloved's benefits could have a meaningful impact on your lifetime "take home pay."
But you need to play your cards right, and that can be easier said than done.
For one, there's an awful lot to know. Spousal benefits are a powerful (but not necessarily well understood) component of the Social Security program.
And secondly, there's no one-size-fits-all strategy for making the most of your joint benefits. Your decision will depend on the benefits eligibility, age and health of both you and your spouse. It also should take into account your other sources of retirement income (e.g., IRA, 401(k) or other savings).
Today, I'll highlight some key points and provide a few hypothetical examples that hopefully will offer some food for thought.
Know This (at a Minimum)
No matter what your circumstance, know at least this much about spousal benefits:
- You are entitled to a spousal benefit if you have been married to your spouse for at least one year.
- The amount of your spousal benefit is equal to 50% of your spouse's full Social Security benefit (his or her primary insurance amount) once you reach full retirement age (FRA).
- For you to collect spousal benefits, your spouse must have filed for Social Security, but does not need to be actively collecting his/her benefits. This is known as filing and suspending. Note that your spouse cannot suspend his/her own benefit (thereby earning an increased individual benefit) until he/she reaches FRA.
For the many other nuances associated with spousal benefits, check out our Social Security guide here.
Keeping It Real
Now let's look at a few "real-life" applications: