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The 1 Social Security Mistake You Can't Afford to Make if You're Married

By Maurie Backman – Sep 27, 2020 at 9:06AM

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You'll need to be especially careful with your filing decision if you have a spouse to consider.

Being married means learning how to compromise, and sometimes, it means doing things that benefit your life partner more so than they benefit you. That philosophy applies not just to life in general, but to Social Security, and if you're married, it's important that you avoid the one mistake that may not hurt you so badly, but that leaves your spouse cash-strapped for life.

Filing early can hurt your spouse

You're entitled to your full Social Security benefit based on your personal earnings history once you reach what's known as full retirement age, or FRA. FRA isn't the same for everyone; it's based on your year of birth, as follows:

If This Is Your Year of Birth:

This Is Your Full Retirement Age:




66 and 2 months


66 and 4 months


66 and 6 months


66 and 8 months


66 and 10 months

1960 or later


Data source: Social Security Administration.

You're allowed to sign up for Social Security as early as age 62, but for each month you claim benefits ahead of FRA, they'll be reduced on a permanent basis. And that may not only hurt you; it could hurt your spouse as well.

Older man and woman dancing

Image source: Getty Images.

If you pass away before your spouse, he or she will be entitled to survivors benefits that equal 100% of your monthly benefit. But if you shrink your benefit by filing for Social Security early, you'll leave your spouse with a lot less income -- for life.

Imagine you're entitled to a $1,500 monthly benefit at an FRA of 67, only you decide to file at 62 instead, bringing that benefit down to $1,050. If your spouse winds up outliving you by 20 years, that means he or she will have $450 less per month for the rest of his or her retirement. And if you don't have a nice amount of savings, that could make for a very financially stressful situation.

That's why you'll need to file for Social Security very carefully if you're married -- especially if you have a spouse who's much younger than you are. You'll often hear that if your health isn't great, it pays to claim Social Security ahead of FRA to get more money from the program in your lifetime. But while that may be true, don't forget about your spouse's financial wellbeing. If he or she is relying on your benefits to pay the bills, especially in your absence, then it could pay to hold off on filing until FRA -- or even beyond -- to leave your spouse with more money. That's right: If you delay your filing past FRA, your benefits will get an 8% boost for each year you do, up until you turn 70.

Of course, if you're married, your Social Security filing decision is one you shouldn't be tackling solo. Rather, sit down with your spouse and devise a strategy together. The upside of being married is having a partner to help you navigate tough financial choices, so don't hesitate to talk things through and figure out a solution that works well for both of you.

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