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Social Security: Why Couples Should Stagger Their Benefits

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What’s the best way to maximize your Social Security benefits?

A recent article by Maurie Backman in The Motley Fool made a compelling case that married couples who are around the same age should stagger their benefits.

“Teaming up to file strategically could put you in a great position to retire when you want to, all the while getting more money out of the program,” the article said of couples who both collect Social Security after working during much of their lives.

Those who receive Social Security can file as early as age 62, but can also wait until their Full Retirement Age or even later. Those who wait later get higher benefits than those who claim earlier.

Motley Fool suggests that married couples spread out those benefits by claiming them at different times.

“You may decide that whoever’s in line for a lower monthly benefit will sign up for Social Security at age 62. That way, you and your spouse get some money coming in sooner. That money may allow you to retire early, partially retire, or continue working but travel more while you’re still relatively young,” the advice says. “Then, you may decide to have the higher earner hold off on claiming benefits until FRA or even beyond. That way, that higher benefit can grow into a larger sum so that you get more money throughout retirement.”

The article suggests that it can work the other way, with the higher-earning spouse claiming the benefit first instead.

But either way, coordination is important.

“When you’re married, getting ready for retirement isn’t something you should do by yourself,” the Motley Fool advice says. “It’s important to map out your plans and goals jointly with your spouse so you can get on the same page and come up with tactics that lead to the best financial outcomes. Though you don’t have to stagger your Social Security filings when you and your spouse each get a benefit, doing so could really work to your advantage.”

How Secure is Social Security?

We recently looked at whether it’s actually possible for the Social Security program to ever run out of money.

Social Security does have trust funds that parcel out benefits, and the Social Security Administration indicated last year that those funds could run out in 2035. However, Congress has numerous steps it can take to shore up the popular program, which is something that it has done in the past.

“Many people hear the words insolvent or bankrupt and they automatically assume the program is just going to disappear,” Shai Akabas, director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told CNBC this year. “In reality, Social Security has been around for well over 80 years now and it has more support than just about any other government function… It is highly unlikely that it is going to disappear anytime soon.

 Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. TomJB

    July 20, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    Motley Fool’s strategy does make sense. However, whether or not there is any “trust fund” actually available (and that is debatable, link or no link) Social Security is the biggest Ponzi scheme in the history of the world. Our population is aging and there are fewer people paying in for every one taking out. If the government decides it needs to print money in the future to cover those debts (and they will since that’s their solution to today) they will continue to inflate the dollar until what you do get won’t matter.

    If Social Security were such a great program, it wouldn’t need to be imposed under threat of legal action. I, for one, would gladly opt out today *and even let them keep every penny I have put in during my life to this point* if they would let me now keep that withholding to invest as I please. This should be preferable because A) you can get a better rate of return yourself than the government can and B) if I die, I can pass on what is left to my family. Try telling the government that your parent paid $X into SS and only took out $Y and that you are entitled to the balance. LOL.

    “Oh, but people would just spend the money and not invest in their own retirement”. IDGAF. When did that become my problem? I have lived within my means and saved, now leave me alone.

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