There's a good chance Social Security will be an important income source for you once retirement rolls around. This holds true even if you enter your senior years with a decent pile of cash in savings. That's why it's so important to claim Social Security strategically.
But your goal shouldn't just be to score the highest monthly Social Security benefit. You should also focus on ways to squeeze the most money out of Social Security in your lifetime.
To some degree, deciding when to claim Social Security is much easier when you only have yourself to worry about. But when you're married, you have to account for the needs of your life partner in the course of your filing decision.
Meanwhile, you may be inclined to claim Social Security early, due to poor health. But should you do that if it means leaving your spouse with less money in benefits? It's a tough call to make; here's how to navigate it.
What's good for you may not be good for your spouse
Generally speaking, it can be advantageous to claim Social Security early when your health is poor and you're unlikely to live a long life. Even though you'll take a hit on your monthly benefits by going that route, you might end up with a higher total during your lifetime.
But reducing your monthly Social Security benefits by filing early could mean leaving a surviving spouse with less monthly income for the rest of their life. Once you pass away, Social Security will pay your surviving spouse the monthly benefit you were eligible for.
If you wait until your full retirement age or even beyond to claim benefits, you'll leave your surviving spouse with a higher income stream. File early, and your spouse's retirement income will be lower.
How to make the right choice
Although Social Security might end up being an important retirement income source for you and your spouse, it may not be the only one. When deciding when to claim benefits, ask yourself how dependent your spouse is likely to be on Social Security upon your passing.
You may decide that between savings and other investments, your surviving spouse can afford to collect a lower monthly benefit so that you can receive more in your lifetime. Also, if you start to receive your benefits sooner, you can use and enjoy them while you're still around.
It may also be the case that your spouse earned a decent income during their career and is entitled to a generous monthly benefit from Social Security. In that case, survivor benefits may not even come into play because your spouse may be eligible for a higher monthly payday from Social Security based on their own earnings record.
But if you don't have a lot of assets or money in your nest egg and your spouse didn't work much or at all, it could pay to consider holding off on claiming Social Security. That may not be the best decision for you, but it could be the right thing to do for your spouse. And if you care about their long-term financial security, it's the move you might decide to make.