Maximizing Social Security Retirement Benefits for Married Baby Boomers

Baby boomers (those born between 1946-1964) are rapidly reaching retirement age. For the next 17 years, an average of more than 10,000 boomers per month will turn 65. This huge population of people needs to make decisions about when to start receiving their Social Security retirement benefits. Some have already elected to start receiving benefits as early as age 62. Many couples don’t realize how many options they have to maximize their benefits, both for themselves and for their spouses, by delaying election.

Why delay benefits election?

Social Security election is often viewed as having to make one of three choices: to take early at a decreased benefit rate, take at the “full retirement age,” or take late at a larger benefit level – sort of each man or woman for himself or herself.

The surviving spouse in a marriage partnership can take the greater of their own or their spouse’s monthly benefit. More often than not, women live longer than men, and with a married couple, the surviving spouse is most likely going to be the wife who may live for many years after the husband dies. Unfortunately, one in four widows over the age of 65 are poor or near poor. Married couples can choose to delay social security election to create a stronger safety net to avoid this situation.

What should we consider when deciding when to take election?

Consider the following important rules about delaying receipt of benefits. Many of them are dependent on your Full Retirement Age (FRA) which depends on your year of birth. For those born after 1960, the age is 67.

Important Rules

1) Early receipt of Social Security benefit reduces the worker benefit AND the spousal benefit.

2) The spouse of worker benefit reaches its maximum at the worker’s FRA. Delayed retirement credits do not increase the spousal benefit.

3) Early receipt of benefits based on the worker’s own work record before their FRA causes “deeming”. The worker is deemed to have made all allowable elections as of that date.

4) Deeming does not occur if the worker elects to receive benefits based on their own work record at or after their FRA.

5) Prior to FRA, the worker has an earnings test that may cause repayment of Social Security benefits.

6) The Senior Citizen’s Right to Work Act of 2001 eliminates the earnings test at or after the FRA.


Subject to those rules, there are numerous scenarios to consider that can ensure that you and your spouse are protected by your benefits.

How can we know which option would work best for us?

You can do research into the best ways to maximize your own social security benefits. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, for example, has an excellent guide that you can read here.

It is also always recommended that this be an issue you discuss with your financial planner or Elder Law attorney.

Social Security Benefits can be complicated, but with a little research you and your spouse can find the best way to maximize this resource to benefit your family.