Get More Money From Social Security

Last week, I covered information on survivor Social Security benefits and using a strategy called “file and suspend plus” to maximize your lifetime joint benefits by timing when you claim. You can go to to see the article and get other Social Security resources. Since I started this series of articles, I have received quite a few questions, so I have put the most common questions with the answers on the Web page. Hope it helps you if the FAQ applies to your situation!

This week we cover another strategy and understanding family maximums. Next week will be the last in this series, and I will cover tax treatment of benefits and ways to potentially minimize your taxes.

Spousal Benefit Change-Up

Another advanced strategy is the spousal benefit change-up. Under this scenario, the lower earner claims benefits at full retirement age, allowing the higher earner to delay taking Social Security, while still claiming a spousal benefit. At 70, the higher earner switches to collecting a personal benefit.

Mark and Anna are both at their full retirement age of 66. Mark is the higher earner. Anna claims her full Social Security benefits at age 66, forgoing any additional credits. Mark claims his spousal benefits while letting his own benefit accumulate until age 70.

At age 70, Mark switches from the spousal benefit to his personal benefit plus accumulated credits, while Anna continues to take her personal benefit, since it’s higher than what she would get as a spouse. At Mark’s passing, Anna switches to the survivor benefit, which is 100 percent of Mark’s maximum benefit.

The advanced claiming strategies we covered the past couple of weeks work best when the spouses are within a couple of years of age of each other and the higher earner has reached full retirement age.

The benefits of these strategies are that they maximize income while maximizing the survivor benefit. We can’t estimate the effects of taxes, cost-of-living adjustments, health, life expectancy, personal goals or any income limits in simple examples, but they can have a major effect on the overall outcome of claiming strategies, so it’s important to consider these things carefully.

As always, it’s really important to speak to a qualified financial adviser who understands your personal situation and can make specific recommendations. Feel free to email me if your question is not on the FAQ page I have posted.

Understanding Family Maximums

If you’ve taken a look at your Social Security statement, you may have seen a line that reads: “total family benefits cannot be more than X amount.” What does this mean? Basically, this is the way that the Social Security Administration limits the amount that a family can collect on a single Social Security record.

This is because the SSA doesn’t want a family to get significantly more than a worker earned while employed.

Generally, the family maximum is between 150 percent and 180 percent of the retired worker’s full benefit. This only becomes an issue if the worker has minor children at home and/or a stay-at-home spouse who is caring for those minor children. It also may be an issue if a worker dies, leaving dependent family behind. The stated maximum will be divided among all family members. When one member “ages out” or stops claiming benefits, the other members may see their benefits increase.