Elder law attorney Gene L. Osofsky of the law firm Osofsky and Osofsky suggests putting on “your thinking cap” when it comes to obtaining additional social security income.
Every year, more than $10 billion in Social Security benefits go unclaimed. Asserts attorney Gene L. Osofsky of the law firm Osofsky & Osofsky, “This is primarily because married couples do not know how to optimize their social security benefits.”
Much of this unclaimed bonanza does consist of spousal benefits that most people don’t even know they’re entitled to receive. “These benefits can increase your income and solve the riddle of whether it’s more advantageous to get immediate monthly income at age 62 or wait until you’re age 66 and get a bigger check – maybe significantly bigger,” Osofsky says.
If you do wait until age 66, which the U.S. government considers full retirement age, for people born between 1943 and 1954 the monthly benefit will be one-third greater than if you take it at age 62. If you wait until age 70, the check will be 76 percent larger. The longer you live, the more it will matter, and chances are, you’ll live a long time. The typical 65-year-old can expect approximately an additional twenty years of life. Within that pertinent group of 65-year-old elders, 41 percent of women and 28 percent of men will live to age 90 – and half of those women will make it to age 95, as will one-third of the men.
Spousal benefits offer a way around the potential conundrum. “If you’re married – or if you’re divorced after ten years of marriage and haven’t remarried, you can claim a benefit not only on your own work record, but also on your spouse’s,” explains Osofsky. No, you can’t collect those benefits simultaneously. But you might be able to get them consecutively. “You can file first to get a spousal benefit, and then later to get your own benefit after it has grown as large as possible. It just has to be done in the right order,” Osofsky says.
Being astute about these spousal benefits and how they work, can result in increased social security income for a married couple. “You may be able to increase your household income substantially over time,” Osofsky concludes, “You just have to be smart about it.”