There’s a reason seniors are often urged to delay taking Social Security until they turn 70. You are entitled to what the government considers your “full” monthly benefit based on your income history at your full retirement age (FRA), which for anyone not yet retired is 66, 67, or anywhere in between, depending on your year of birth. But for every month after your FRA that you delay claiming Social Security, you get a deferred retirement credit that gives a permanent boost to your monthly benefits, if any.
Once you turn 70, you hit the ceiling when it comes to those deferred retirement loans. Waiting will no longer increase your benefit check. That is why 70 is generally considered the last age to file. And if you think you’ll live a reasonably long life, you could end up getting enough of those bigger monthly checks that will help you out financially by having claimed benefits at 70 instead of earlier.
But while that makes sense to many people, there is one scenario where it definitely doesn’t pay off. And if you delay filing in that situation, you could be missing out on money for no good reason.
Partner benefits cannot grow
Most people claim Social Security based on their own income history. If you go that route, you can build up deferred retirement credits for deferring the day you file for Social Security. But if you apply for spousal maintenance, the rules are different.
Some people don’t earn enough work credits in their lifetime to qualify for Social Security on their own. But if you’re married to someone who qualifies for Social Security, you can apply for a partner’s benefit based on their income record once they’ve applied for benefits on their own. You can also request spousal maintenance based on the file of an ex-spouse, provided you were married to that person for 10 years or more.
Marital benefits are worth 50% of what your current or former spouse collects, provided you wait for your own FRA to sign up for them. But one thing you don’t want to do when you claim partner benefits is to delay after that point.
The reason? You can only increase your monthly benefit in this way if you claim it against your own income record. This is not possible with a partner allowance.
Let’s say your spouse collects $2,000 a month in Social Security and you sign up for a partner’s benefit with your own FRA of 67. You get checks for $1,000 a month. Waiting to claim until you turn 70 won’t increase those payments, so delaying your application will only miss out on years of receiving money that you were otherwise entitled to.
know the rules
Deciding when you can claim Social Security can be difficult in many cases. But when you’re talking about partner benefits, it’s not that hard because your timing doesn’t make much of a difference.
However, whether you’re applying for a partner’s benefit or not, it’s important to know the rules for claiming your retirement benefits. Reading Social Security can help you figure out the ways to get the most out of the program you can, so spend some time learning about the ins and outs long before you have to make your decisions.