When Should You Claim Social Security If You’re Much Older Than Your Spouse?

It’s not particularly uncommon to wind up in a marriage where there’s a sizable age gap between you and your spouse. And that age gap may not be much of a problem — at least not until retirement nears.

But once retirement approaches, you’ll be faced with some serious decisions, like when to start drawing from your nest egg and when to sign up for Social Security. And for the latter, you’ll really need to keep that age gap in mind.

Will your spouse end up counting on survivors benefits?

One of the nice things about Social Security is that it covers not just workers who are entitled to benefits, but also, their family members. If you pass away ahead of your spouse, your partner will be entitled to survivors benefits from Social Security. And the amount your spouse collects each month in that scenario will equal the amount you received while you were alive (provided they wait long enough to claim benefits).

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That’s why it’s so important to file for Social Security strategically if you have a much younger spouse. You’re entitled to your full monthly benefit based on your wage history once you reach full retirement age, or FRA. FRA is either 66, 67, or 66 and a certain number of months — it depends on your year of birth.

Meanwhile, you’re allowed to start collecting Social Security at age 62. But for each month you file for benefits ahead of your FRA, they’ll be reduced on a permanent basis. If you decide to sign up for benefits early, you could inevitably wind up leaving your spouse with a lower monthly survivors benefit for many years.

On the other hand, if you’re willing and able to delay your Social Security filing beyond FRA, you can snag a higher monthly benefit. For each year you hold off until age 70, your benefits grow 8%. And once you boost your own benefit, you’ll set your spouse up to collect a higher survivors benefit, too.

Talk through your options

When there’s a large age gap between you and a younger spouse, it can really put the pressure on from a Social Security standpoint. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk through your options together and come up with a filing strategy that works for you both.

It may be that your spouse doesn’t want you to delay your filing too long because they’d rather you get to enjoy more of those benefits while you’re alive. If you claim benefits early, you might manage to check some big trips off your bucket list, whereas if you wait too long, your health might decline to the point that those trips aren’t feasible or desirable. Or you may have enough money saved so that snagging a larger survivors benefit from Social Security isn’t so important.

Either way, these are decisions you’ll want to talk through. And ideally, you should have those conversations well ahead of retirement. That way, both you and your spouse will know what to expect and the decision to claim Social Security may not end up being as difficult.

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