Marriage complicates everything - usually in delightful ways! Sharing your life with someone means sharing everything, from your combined families to your combined incomes - and unfortunately, even your combined efforts at credit repair. Many married couples lose sight of their retirement planning when embroiled in desperate attempts to repair credit and purchase a home, save to get braces for the twins and save for college tuition. You can and should simultaneously be planning for your retirement. This includes understanding Social Security and how it works when you're married.
First and foremost, what does the word "married" mean? The Federal Government solves this problem by deferring to the state you live in. Whatever their rules are regarding the legal definition of marriage, Social Security will recognize. About one third of the states in the USA have some recognition of Common Law Marriage so you don't necessarily need a marriage license to claim your spouse's benefits.
How Much Of Your Spouse's Benefits Can You Claim?
When you are married, you can claim your spouse's benefits. Even if you never held a job yourself you are entitled to share your spouse's Social Security benefits. If you wait until both of you are of retirement age (currently 66 years old) you can claim 50% of your spouse's benefit. If you claim it before age 66, the percentage goes down. Social Security has no marriage penalty, so there's absolutely no downside in claiming both benefits. Social Security allows a widow or widower to claim their spouse's benefits, even if they remarry. You can claim a deceased spouse's benefits as early as age 60, and add their own benefit whenever necessary - though waiting until age 70 will bring the highest benefit possible.
There are many strategies for married couples to maximize their possible benefits. One simple idea is for a married couple to claim only the benefit from the lower-income spouse until they are 70, allowing the higher-income (and thus higher funded) spouse's benefits to grow to their highest potential. The strategic possibilities are actually quite complex and many married couples hire professionals to help them take advantage of the best strategies for their Social Security profile.
However you want to retire - as early as possible or working up until you are forced to retire - taking a look at your Social Security options and planning ahead to maximize them is an essential component in your future financial health.