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Ask the Expert: What's the best Social Security strategy for a couple?

I'll be 66 next month. My wife turns 66 in 2020. I plan to start Social Security at 70. I know my benefit will grow 8 percent a year between my 66th birthday and my 70th birthday if I postpone taking it. I know from your previous columns that my wife's biggest spousal benefit is half the benefit I’d have at 66. Her benefit based on her own work history will be bigger. What's the proper delaying strategy to maximize our monthly combined benefit?

You have two potential strategies under current Social Security rules. You’ll have to compare them and decide which works better for you.

Most people can’t afford to postpone Social Security long enough to collect the biggest possible benefit. But readers who'll need to start Social Security early should also explore all their options. From your 62nd birthday on, your benefit grows a little with every month you delay taking it. Also, you may have more choices than you realize if you're entitled to a Social Security benefit based on another person's work record as well as your own.

A couple’s options depend partly on their respective ages. In your case, one strategy is for your wife to take her benefit at 66. You'll then be 68. Being over 66, you could file a restricted application for your spousal benefit, delaying your own until 70. Together, you'd collect 150 percent of her benefit for two years. At 70, you’d switch to your own benefit. Together you’d then collect 100 percent of her benefit plus 132 percent of yours. Alternatively, you could each apply for your own benefit at 70. In four years, you’d collect 132 percent of your benefit, and in six years, 132 percent of both.


It pays to consider all your Social Security options.


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