Social Security benefits are important to retired married couples. Among elderly Social Security recipients, 50% of married folks receive half of their retirement income or more from their monthly benefits. Even more significantly, 21% of married couples rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their senior income.

If you're married, there are many important things you should know about Social Security. Here are three that can help in the course of your retirement planning.

Smiling older couple looking at tablet while sitting on couch

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1. You can claim spousal benefits if you never worked

Workers who earn enough credits in their lifetime are eligible for Social Security benefits later in life. Even if you don't have a work history of your own, however, you can still claim benefits on your spouse's record.

Your spousal benefit will equal 50% of the monthly benefit your spouse receives at full retirement age. However, if you're married, you can only claim a spousal benefit once your spouse begins collecting Social Security. Furthermore, whereas you can grow a regular Social Security benefit into a higher sum by delaying your filing past full retirement age, spousal benefits can't grow, so there's no sense in waiting on those once full retirement age is upon you.

2. You'll be entitled to survivors benefits if you outlive your spouse

In some couples, one spouse is much older than the other. If that's the case for you, rest assured that if you outlive your life partner, you'll be entitled to survivors benefits. Unlike spousal benefits, survivors benefits pay you 100% of what your spouse collects each month.

3. You can coordinate with your spouse to claim benefits strategically

If you're entitled to Social Security benefits based on your own earnings record, the program will either pay you your own benefit each month or a spousal benefit -- whichever is higher. If it turns out you'll get more money by claiming a benefit on your own work history, you'll want to sit down and coordinate that filing with your spouse.

Being married gives you a chance to file for benefits in a manner that best serves your retirement. You can:

  • Claim your own benefit early to get money sooner and let your spouse's benefit grow
  • Claim your own benefit on time (at full retirement age) and let your spouse's benefit grow
  • File early along with your spouse and absorb the hit you'll take on your benefits by virtue of having two separate payments to enjoy
  • Delay benefits along with your spouse and secure a higher payout for life

These are just a few combinations to look at. The point is that being married gives you options. Run through different scenarios and see what makes the most sense given your total financial picture.

Read up on Social Security

Social Security can be a financial lifeline for married couples during retirement. Even if you've saved well for your senior years and plan to use your benefits for leisure more so than essentials, it still pays to know the rules for married folks and sign up at the right time. Talk to your spouse about how to best use Social Security to your joint advantage.