Maximizing Your Spouse’s Social Security Survivor’s Benefit

In our 3rd quarter newsletter, fellow advisor Harli Palme wrote about Social Security and Medicare, explaining some of the basic features of both social insurance programs.  Those nearing Social Security eligibility age have many options to consider.  Making the right choice on when to start taking benefits is crucial, especially for married couples.

Full retirement age is the age at which you are eligible to receive your full Social Security benefit.   The current schedule is as follows:

1943 – 1954         66

1955                       66 + 2 months

1956                       66 + 4 months

1957                       66 + 6 months

1958                       66 + 8 months

1959                       66 + 10 months

1960+                     67


As is typical with the government, Social Security offers both sticks and carrots.  For example, you may take your benefit as early as age 62; however, for each year prior to your FRA, your benefit is permanently reduced (ergo, the stick).  If, for example, your FRA benefit would be $1500, your benefit at age 62 would be only $1125.

The administration offers those who can wait a pretty tasty carrot: for each year you delay taking Social Security, your benefit increases by approximately 8% per year.  Using the previous example, your benefit at FRA ($1,500) would increase to $1,930 – a 32% increase if you delay benefits until age 70.

There are numerous options available that are neither well known nor understood.  I am going to focus on one strategy that is a great way to ensure a surviving spouse receives the greatest benefit:  File and Suspend.  This strategy is most appropriate where one spouse worked and the other did not.

In order to qualify for File and Suspend, the covered (i.e. working) spouse must reach FRA.  At that time he/she applies for Social Security benefits and then immediately suspends them.  This allows the non-working spouse to apply for spousal benefits, equivalent to ½ of the covered spouse’s full-retirement benefit.  The covered spouse then allows his/her benefit to increase until age 70.

The File and Suspend strategy is an extremely useful option to help ensure the economic security of widows.  As we all know, men tend to earn more and die younger.  By delaying the claiming of Social Security, a husband will receive a higher benefit which will in turn provide his surviving spouse a higher Survivor’s Benefit on his death.

There are numerous articles that attempt to cover all of your options with Social Security.  However, we recommend that you consult with your financial advisor to discuss your circumstances and review your options to help you determine what is best for you.


Tracy H. Allen, CFP®

Financial Advisor

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