Most people know that Social Security checks increase if you delay claiming them.
While you become eligible for retirement benefits as early as age 62, waiting until at least your full retirement age (FRA) grows your benefit because you avoid early filing penalties. And waiting even longer to get started until after FRA will also increase the size of your monthly checks until age 70 due to delayed retirement credits you can earn.
Because of these rules, retirees hoping for the largest monthly benefit should wait until age 70 to claim it — in most cases. But there is an important exception to this rule, and you need to know what it is so you don't leave money on the table.
Retirees shouldn't wait until 70 to claim Social Security benefits in this situation
If you are claiming spousal benefits, rather than claiming Social Security on your own work record, there is absolutely no reason to delay the start of your checks until 70 if you are eligible for them earlier.
That's because you are not able to earn delayed retirement credits for spousal benefits under any circumstances.
Spousal benefits are based on your spouse's work history. You're entitled to them if you're married, or if you are divorced after a marriage that lasted at least 10 years. They can be an invaluable source of income if you didn't earn enough work credits to qualify for benefits on your own, or if your earnings were very low and your own benefit isn't worth very much.
Your spousal benefit can equal up to half of the amount of your husband or wife's benefit at their full retirement age. If you claim your spousal benefit before your full retirement age, you'll shrink the amount and get less. But once you've reached your FRA, there is no reason to delay beyond that until 70 before starting your benefits, since you won't get a monthly income boost for doing so.
Of course, you need to be eligible for spousal benefits at your full retirement age in order to claim them then. If you're still married, this eligibility hinges not just on your marital status but also on your spouse having claimed his or her own retirement benefits already. This rule doesn't apply to those who are divorced, though. Divorced individuals can claim their spousal benefits on their own schedule regardless of what their ex does.
If you're still married and your partner hasn't yet started getting Social Security retirement checks, you'll need to wait for them to do so before you can get your monthly spousal benefit — even if you've already reached your own full retirement age. Unfortunately, if this means you end up having to wait beyond your FRA, you still won't see your monthly checks go up due to the delay.
The bottom line is, if you are married and claiming spousal benefits, then as soon as you hit full retirement age, it's time for you to claim your monthly Social Security money if you can. Otherwise, you're needlessly missing out on income you're owed with no benefit to you later.
The $16,728 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook
If you're like most Americans, you're a few years (or more) behind on your retirement savings. But a handful of little-known “Social Security secrets” could help ensure a boost in your retirement income. For example: one easy trick could pay you as much as $16,728 more… each year! Once you learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits, we think you could retire confidently with the peace of mind we're all after. Simply click here to discover how to learn more about these strategies.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.