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  • Writer's pictureJohn A. White

How Marriage Impacts Your Social Security Benefits

As a milestone in many Americans' lives, getting married has personal implications and significant financial consequences, both in the present and the future. While most couples may not consider Social Security and retirement benefits when tying the knot, understanding how marriage affects these benefits is crucial. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore how marriage impacts Social Security benefits and provide essential information to help you make informed decisions about your financial future.



1. Opening Doors to New Benefits

Marriage can open doors to new Social Security benefits for both partners. Workers become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits when they reach the age of 62, provided they have earned enough credits. Currently, one credit is equivalent to $1,730 in earnings per year. To qualify for retirement benefits, a worker needs to accumulate a total of 40 credits. This presents a hopeful opportunity for increased benefits through marriage.


Spousal benefits are also available to married workers, even if they have never worked. As long as one partner has earned enough credits to qualify for Social Security, both partners are guaranteed to receive benefits in retirement. This means married couples can expect to receive two Social Security checks, providing a reassuring and secure financial future.

2. Maximizing Benefits

The Social Security Administration pays each married individual the larger of their own Social Security benefit or their spousal benefit. However, claiming a spousal benefit is only possible once workers start receiving their benefits. The maximum spousal benefit is generally half of the worker's benefit at their full retirement age (FRA), which falls between 66 and 67 for most individuals today.


While early claiming by the worker may result in reduced benefits, it does not affect the spousal benefit. However, if the spouse decides to claim Social Security early, their spousal benefit checks may also be reduced. For example, if the worker qualifies for a $2,000 monthly benefit at their FRA of 67, their partner may be eligible for a spousal benefit of up to $1,000. However, if the spouse claims early, their benefit could be reduced by as much as 35%, resulting in monthly checks of only $650. If the spouse's retirement benefit is larger than the spousal benefit, the Social Security Administration will pay the spouse their own benefit.

3. Benefits Beyond Marriage

Divorce is an unfortunate reality for some couples. If a couple splits before being married for at least ten years, neither party can claim spousal benefits based on their ex-partner's work record. However, if the marriage lasts for at least ten years before ending in divorce, both parties can claim spousal benefits, provided they have not remarried. The remarriage of an ex-spouse does not impact eligibility for spousal benefits.


Remarriage after divorce allows individuals to claim spousal benefits based on their new partner's record, not their ex-spouse's. However, the option to claim spousal benefits on the new partner's record is only available once the new partner applies for Social Security. Additionally, if an individual's retirement benefit is higher than the spousal benefit, they may not be eligible for spousal benefits.

4. Survivor Benefits

In the unfortunate event of a worker's death, spouses and ex-spouses may be eligible for survivor benefits. These benefits can be up to the entire Social Security benefit of the deceased worker. Spouses and ex-spouses who were married to the deceased for at least ten years can begin claiming survivor benefits at the age of 60 or as early as 50 if they are disabled. Additionally, spouses and ex-spouses of any age and marriage length may be eligible if they are caring for the deceased worker's child who is under 16 or has a disability that began before the age of 22.


The rules for survivor benefits differ slightly from those for spousal benefits regarding remarriage. Remarrying before the age of 60 will result in the loss of survivor benefits, while remarriage after this age will not affect eligibility. However, if the new spousal benefit is higher than the survivor's benefit, the individual will be switched to the spousal benefit by the government.


5. Coordination for Maximum Benefits

Coordination between spouses is crucial to maximizing Social Security benefits. Couples should carefully consider their Social Security claiming strategy to ensure they receive the most money from the program. It is important to remember that benefit amounts increase slightly each month you delay claiming Social Security until your full retirement age (FRA) for spousal benefits. Retirement benefits can continue to grow until the age of 70.


When both partners have similar earnings histories, delaying benefits as long as possible often yields the highest overall benefits. However, in cases where there is a significant income imbalance, the lower earner may claim benefits earlier to provide some additional income, while the higher earner delays claiming to maximize their benefits. The Social Security Administration allows the lower earner to switch to a spousal benefit if it is higher than their current benefit once the higher earner starts receiving it.


6. Tax Planning Considerations

While Social Security benefits are not typically subject to federal income tax, they may become taxable if you have additional sources of income. For married couples who file a joint tax return and have a combined income above a certain threshold, a portion of their Social Security benefits may be subject to taxation. It is crucial to consider tax planning strategies to minimize the impact of taxes on your Social Security benefits.


7. Additional Factors to Consider

In addition to the factors mentioned above, there are several other considerations when it comes to how marriage affects Social Security benefits. These include:


a. Age Difference

The age difference between spouses can impact the timing and amount of Social Security benefits. Couples with a significant age difference may need to carefully consider the claiming strategies that will maximize their overall benefits.


b. Remarriage and Divorce

If you are considering remarriage or have been divorced, it is essential to understand the implications for your Social Security benefits. Each situation is unique, and it is important to consult with a financial advisor or Social Security expert to navigate the complexities.


c. Work History

Both partners' work history will impact their eligibility for Social Security benefits. It is important to have a clear understanding of each partner's work history and accumulated credits to determine the potential benefits available.


d. Long-Term Planning

Marriage is an opportunity to engage in long-term financial planning. Consider working with a financial advisor to develop a comprehensive retirement plan that incorporates Social Security benefits and other retirement savings vehicles.


Conclusion

Marriage has significant implications for Social Security benefits, providing couples with access to various benefits and opportunities. Understanding how marriage affects these benefits is crucial for maximizing your financial security in retirement. By coordinating your claiming strategies, considering tax planning, and taking into account other factors specific to your situation, you can make informed decisions and ensure you receive the maximum benefits you are entitled to. Consult with a financial advisor or Social Security expert to navigate the complexities and develop a comprehensive retirement plan that aligns with your goals and aspirations.

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