Marriage and Social Security: What you need to know

(MoneyWatch) Many things are complicated when you're married, but there's one issue you may not have thought of yet: Social Security. As a married person you can really maximize your Social Security check by claiming benefits at the right time. Here's what you need to know:

First, you're eligible to receive your benefits or, assuming your spouse is still alive, half of your spouse's benefit amount. If your spouse earns significantly more than you -- or if you don't work -- this spousal benefit is a smart option.

Second: If you plan to claim that spousal benefit, know that you'll only get 35 percent of the amount, not 50, if you start collecting before you turn 66.

Third: General Social Security advice is that the longer you wait to collect your benefits, the higher your monthly check will be. However, this isn't true for spousal benefits. There is no financial advantage to waiting past age 66.

Now this is where it gets tricky: A spouse can't claim spousal benefits until the earner makes a claim. So let's say a high-earning husband and non-working wife both turn 66 this year. The best financial plan is for the husband to begin claiming his benefits so his wife can collect, right? Not so fast. The husband will receive a bigger benefit if he waits until he's 70 to collect.

Here's the solution: The husband should request that his claim and his benefits be immediately suspended. That lets him wait a few more years for a bigger benefit, but allows his wife to go ahead and start receiving her spousal benefits.

  • Mellody Hobson

    View all articles by Mellody Hobson on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Mellody Hobson is President of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based money management firm that serves individual investors and retirement plans through its no-load mutual funds and separate accounts. Additionally, she is a regular financial contributor and analyst for CBS News and CBSNews.com.

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