Managing Your Money

One thing every spouse needs to know about Social Security

Thumbnail image for SS Card 2.jpgIs your spouse contemplating when to start taking Social Security retirement benefits? If so, make sure they are considering one of the most important factors in their decision: its impact on you.

Often primary breadwinners fail to consider how their Social Security decisions may affect their spouses in the years to come. This oversight is sometimes not realized until that spouse passes away. When this happens, most often the widow or widower will inherit the higher of the couple’s two Social Security benefits (assuming the surviving spouse is at his or her full retirement age). The surviving spouse can keep one of the payments, not both.

If the higher earning spouse took Social Security early, not only did they reduce their benefits for the remainder of their life, but they may have also reduced the amount their spouse is entitled to for the remainder of his or her life. If there is a material age disparity between the two, then this decision could affect the surviving spouse for years or even decades to come in the form of reduced Social Security payments.

When it comes time to make the decision about when to file for Social Security retirement benefits, make sure it is a family decision. All those affected by this decision should be fully aware of its ramifications and should have a say in the decision. Of course, if you are unsure of the optimal filing strategy for your family, don't be afraid to seek out the advice of a good financial planner who has probably helped many other couples make this important decision.

D. Abraham Ringer, CFP® is a Financial Adviser with Morgan Stanley Global Wealth Management in Boston. He is registered in MA, NH, NY and several other states to which this article is directed. For more information please consult

The information contained in this article is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments. The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors as the appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor's individual circumstances and objectives. Investing involves risks and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest. Morgan Stanley Financial Advisors do not provide tax or legal advice. The views expressed herein are those of the author, D. Abraham Ringer, and may not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, Member SIPC, or its affiliates.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP (with flame design) in the U.S.

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