To maximize the couple’s Social Security benefits, I suggested that she claim her spousal benefit (not her own benefit) at her full retirement age of 66, and that the husband also claim at 66 but suspend his monthly benefit of $2,356 until he turned 70. He would then start taking his monthly benefit, which would have grown to $3,110 (not counting any cost-of-living increases) because of the wait – an additional $754 more per month. That means he would receive more than $135,000 in additional Social Security benefits over his life expectancy.
Claiming her spousal benefit instead of her own accomplishes two things. First, it allows her own benefit to continue to build until she reaches 70. What’s more, assuming that her husband dies first, she will be able to continue to receive his benefits (plus any additional credits he gained by suspending) after he dies.
You can also use suspension to grow your benefits after you’ve already started receiving Social Security checks. If you’re at full retirement age and have claimed benefits but haven’t reached age 70, you can suspend benefits and reapply when you turn 70 to get a larger check when benefits resume.
Of course, when running the numbers and deciding when to claim, you need to know exactly how much you’d receive at each age between 62 and 70. You can do this using the Social Security Administration’s retirement benefits estimator, entering your personal information to see the amounts you’d draw each month/year by claiming at different ages. This section of the site has other helpful tools, including a life-expectancy calculator.
Visiting the site regularly is a good idea for just about everyone, regardless of how far they are from retirement, so they can make sure they’ve received credit for all of their earnings. It’s far easier to identify lapses in credits and to get them corrected in the same year—rather than going back 20 years. And after all, the government is by no means infallible.
Many people incorrectly assume that the sooner they claim, the more money they’ll ultimately receive. To keep from leaving money on the government’s table – money you’ve worked hard for all of your adult life – take a hard look before you leap to claim benefits.
This column is the opinion of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Byron L. Studdard, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner, is founder and president of Studdard Financial, LLC, a fee-only financial advisory firm in Sarasota, Fla., dedicated to helping clients build wealth, protect it and pass it on to future generations. Studdard has been listed in the Guide to America's Best Financial Planners (published by the Consumers' Research Council of America, an independent research organization). He can be reached at Byron@studdardfinancial.com. If you have a question for him, send him an email and he will try to answer it in an upcoming column.