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Social Security: A Simple Technique Married Couples Can Use to Maximize Their Combined Benefits

If you're married and approaching retirement age, then there's a simple technique that could help you and your spouse maximize your combined monthly benefits.

Known as "claim and suspend," it allows a spouse to get around the requirement that he or she must wait to draw benefits until after the primary beneficiary has already done so.

Here's how it works: Assuming the breadwinner is 66 years old and the spouse is at least 62, then the breadwinner can apply for benefits and then immediately suspend them. The net effect is that the primary breadwinner gets to continue accumulating delayed retirement credits without jeopardizing the now-retired spouse's ability to draw from the system.

Now, just to be clear, this strategy doesn't work for everyone. As Motley Fool contributor John Maxfield explains in the following video, it's particularly well suited for when the primary beneficiary is three to five years older than the spouse.

How to get even more income during retirement
Social Security plays a key role in your financial security, but it's not the only way to boost your retirement income. In our brand-new free report, our retirement experts give their insight on a simple strategy to take advantage of a little-known IRS rule that can help ensure a more comfortable retirement for you and your family. Click here to get your copy today.


Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (15)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 9:05 AM, gadfly1000 wrote:

    Not very smart at all.

    The spouse will have spouse benefits cut 25%. If the spouse ever worked AND is below full retirement age, the spouse would be REQUIRED to ALSO start those benefits if spouse benefits are started, which would also be reduced 25%. (The spouse would not get the sum of those two benefits.)

    At age 70, the "breadwinner" will have increased the pension by 32%, as opposed to a 16% gain if the spouse waited till 66 to take spouse benefits. So the net gain would be just 16%, but four years of full breadwinner benefits would have been foregone.

    Start and suspend works if BOTH spouses are full retirement age, because then spouse benefits can be started WITHOUT the spouse being forced to turn on own benefits.

    A better strategy to maximize eventual combined pensions is to divorce. Then BOTH spouses can start and suspend their own benefits and both can collect spouse benefits.

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 9:26 AM, gadfly1000 wrote:

    Not very smart at all.

    The spouse will have spouse benefits cut 25%. If the spouse ever worked AND is below full retirement age, the spouse would be REQUIRED to ALSO start those benefits if spouse benefits are started, which would also be reduced 25%. (The spouse would not get the sum of those two benefits.)

    At age 70, the "breadwinner" will have increased the pension by 32%, as opposed to a 16% gain if the spouse waited till 66 to take spouse benefits. So the net gain would be just 16%, but four years of full breadwinner benefits would have been foregone.

    Start and suspend works if BOTH spouses are full retirement age, because then spouse benefits can be started WITHOUT the spouse being forced to turn on own benefits.

    A better strategy to maximize eventual combined pensions is to divorce. Then BOTH spouses can start and suspend their own benefits and both can collect spouse benefits.

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 5:33 PM, bsteaves wrote:

    Too bad you can't get this information from the Social Security web site if you live abroad. It restricted to the USA only. A good VPN will get you in, risking a foreign prison term just to learn your benefits. Obama Care and the IRS are shining examples of good web programming, You can reach them anywhere in the world.

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John Maxfield
JohnMaxfield37

John has been writing for The Motley Fool since 2011. As a senior banking analyst, he covers the financial industry and the nation's largest banks in particular. He has a bachelor's degree in economics from Lewis and Clark College and a juris doctorate from Southern Methodist University. He's a licensed attorney in the state of Oregon, and resides in Portland with his wife and twin sons. View John Maxfield's profile on LinkedIn

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