Chris Stein, CFP®
Filing Strategies for Spouses With Large Age Differences
What are the options for Social Security filing strategies when spouses have a large age difference?
There are more limited choices in this case, but still a few things to consider. A question came in as:
“My husband turns 66 in a few months, and I am 51 today. I am having trouble finding filing strategies with such an age gap. We have decided my husband will file for his benefit when he turns 66. Are there any strategies available to us? Can I file for spousal benefits when I turn 62? I have my own earned Social Security retirement benefit as well.”
First of all, most filing “strategies” involve some sort of coordination of filing between spouses. Generally spouses who are close in age and each have a substantial earnings record will find they have the greatest number of filing options. However, there are still a few things to consider for couples who are not close in age or even for single persons.
Survivor Benefits Instead
In this case the husband is filing at his full retirement age in a few months. While the emailer states this is their plan, I do want to point out that sometimes we recommend the older person delay filing as long as possible in order to generate the highest SURVIVOR benefit. The fact that the husband is 15 years older, and is male (shorter expected lifespan than a female) makes it likely the wife will outlive her husband by quite a few years. Since the death of one spouse will cause the surviving spouse to be able to collect only ONE of the two earned benefits, having the husband’s benefit be the highest possible will leave a much more attractive monthly survivor benefit for his wife.
Either Your Own Benefit Or a Spousal Benefit
Whether the husband files in the next few months or waits to age 70 where his benefit is its maximum, he will be filing many years before his wife will be eligible to file for a retirement benefit. The wife becomes eligible for a retirement benefit (either her own or her spousal benefit) when she reaches age 62 (in 11 years). At that point her husband will be 77 and collecting his retirement benefit. Since he will be collecting when she turns 62 the wife will be eligible for EITHER her own benefit OR her spousal benefit, whichever is higher. She will not have the ability to pick and choose between them unless Congress changes the rules.
Under current rules she will be paid the largest of whichever benefit for which she is eligible, no matter what age she is when she files. Had she been older (at least 62 by Jan 1, 2016), she would have had some flexible options once she reached 67, but she clearly does not meet that requirement.
More Flexibility In Some Instances
That may seem to be the end of the story, but I would like to suggest something else to keep in the back of her mind. With such a large age difference it is certainly conceivable that her husband my pass away before she reaches age 62. If that sad event happens she will actually have more flexibility.
In the case of survivor benefits it IS possible to file for those while leaving your own benefit unclaimed. This would allow her to collect a spousal benefit as early as her age 60, but then let her own benefit grow until as late as her age 70 where her benefit would be maximized. The choice to do this would depend on a number of things, including the relative sizes of those two benefits for which she is eligible. I only mention this so if she finds herself in that situation she will consider coordinated filing between her two benefits to maximize her lifetime benefits
I thank this listener for emailing us this question and encourage anyone else with questions to reach out to us. We always enjoy hearing from our blog readers/listeners and appreciate the questions.
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