For many retired couples, Social Security is an important income source for the household. With both partners getting benefits, the money coming from the Social Security Administration (SSA) can cover some essentials. And unlike most retirement income, these benefits are guaranteed for life.
But just how much will the typical senior couple get in retirement benefits from Social Security?
The average couple's benefit in 2022
According to the SSA, the average benefit for a couple when both will be receiving benefits will be $2,753 in 2022. This is an increase from $2,559 in 2021. It means that the typical senior couple will have an annual income from the SSA of $33,036 in 2022.
The fact that this amount is so low for a couple might come as a surprise, especially since the average benefit for all individual retirees is $1,657 next year. But often, one person in a relationship makes more than the other or claims retirement benefits at an earlier age. The lower earner or early claimer might get less than the overall average among all retirees.
Unfortunately, the annual income a couple receives from Social Security is low enough that it would be difficult for two people to live on. That's especially true given that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports average annual consumer expenditures among households 65 and older were $47,579 in 2020.
The combined household income a couple has from Social Security just isn't enough to cover expenses because these benefits are designed only to supplement other income sources, not be the sole source of funds retirees rely on. Seniors will need additional savings so they can cover their essential costs.
How can married couples maximize their combined benefits?
While seniors can't rely on Social Security alone, they still can take steps to maximize their benefits. For couples, this often means coordinating to decide on the most effective claiming strategy.
In some cases, the ideal is for both spouses to wait until age 70 to file for benefits. This is a good strategy when both spouses qualify for Social Security on their own work records and have similar incomes. They can each maximize their benefit by earning the maximum delayed retirement credits, thus earning the largest combined household income from Social Security.
But there are other techniques as well. Sometimes, lower-earning spouses should claim benefits early to enable higher-earning spouses to delay as long as possible. Once the higher-earning spouses start getting checks, the lower earners can switch over to getting spousal benefits if they're higher than the amount based on their own earnings history.
You can't collect both your own benefit and your spousal benefit at the same time, though. Nor can you file for spousal benefits and delay getting your own checks until your full retirement age, as you're considered to be filing for all benefits you're eligible for once you request that your checks start.
Married couples should work together to discuss the best approach for each person to claim benefits in order to maximize lifetime retirement income from Social Security. While they'll still need additional savings, choosing the right Social Security claiming strategy goes a long way toward helping them bolster their financial security.