Medicare, Social Security, and Insurance

12/28/2022 | By Sandra Block

Social Security decisions involve both spouses. Getting the most out of your Social Security benefits could significantly improve your retirement security, and if you’re married, it’s not a decision you should make in a vacuum. Before you and your spouse file for benefits, you should consider a host of factors, including your respective earnings histories, the difference in your ages and how long you think you’ll live.

Social Security benefits are based on your 35 highest years of earnings. If you have less than 35 years of earnings, zeroes are entered for the missing years. That can lead to a significant reduction in benefits for spouses who have taken time off from the workforce to care for children or elderly parents. Spousal benefits are designed to address that problem by allowing individuals to claim benefits based on their spouse’s earnings record instead of their own.

As long as your spouse has filed for his or her own Social Security benefits, you can file for spousal benefits as early as age 62. If you wait to file until your full retirement age (66 to 67), you’ll be eligible for 50% of your spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA) — the benefit your spouse is entitled to at his or her full retirement age. But if you file at age 62, the benefits you’ll receive will be reduced.

If you want to start collecting benefits before your spouse applies for Social Security, you can file for your own benefits as early as age 62, then switch to the spousal benefit once your partner files benefits.

There are other ways couples with unequal earnings histories can coordinate the timing of their benefits. For example, the lower-earning spouse claims benefits as early as age 62, even though it will reduce that spouse’s benefits by up to 30%. The couple can use income from the lower earner’s benefits, along with other sources, to enable the higher earner to delay filing until age 70. That allows the higher earner’s benefits to get a greater boost from the delayed retirement credits and the annual cost-of-living increases.

clock on blocks that say social security

It’s no longer unusual for a working couple to have similar work records. But even if you think you will each receive about the same benefit, run the numbers to determine the amount each spouse is eligible to receive. Even small differences in birth dates and earnings can affect your benefits. Go to to create an online Social Security account and estimate your benefits at age 62, full retirement age and age 70.

If you need the income, it makes sense for the spouse with lower benefits to file at full retirement age or earlier and allow the higher earner’s benefits to grow.

If you and your spouse have other sources of income to cover your expenses, it may make sense for both of you to delay filing until age 70. For example, if you both have a primary insurance amount of $3,000 and live to 90, you could collect approximately $65,000 more over your lifetimes if both of you delay filing until 70, compared with having one spouse file for benefits at full retirement age.

Sandra Block is a senior editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. For more on this and similar money topics, visit

©2022 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Sandra Block

Sandra Block is a senior editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. For more on this and similar money topics, visit