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Social Security Mailbox

How to Maximize Your Benefits

'Claim and suspend' lets your payment grow until you're 70

Q. I am older than my husband but we will both reach full retirement age (66) within several months of each other. What can we do to maximize our Social Security benefits?

A. Here's a strategy that might work for you.

See also: Keep Social Security strong. >>

When you reach 66, file for Social Security and immediately suspend those benefits. If you do this, your future benefits increase about 8 percent a year. For example, waiting four years until 70 (when the annual increases top out) would mean that a $1,000-a-month benefit would rise to $1,320.

Meanwhile, when your husband reaches his full retirement age, he can apply for a spousal benefit based on your work record, because you've filed. Typically he'll get about 50 percent of what your basic payment would have been.

When he reaches 70, he can file for retirement benefits on his own record. Like yours, they will have grown by 32 percent over what they would have been had he claimed them at 66.

Typically, the person who reaches the full retirement age files first. But if your husband's benefits are greater than yours, he should consider being the first to file in order for you to get the larger spousal benefit.

Also of interest: Calculate when to claim benefits. >>

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query.

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