In this week’s column, Phil Moeller, the author of Get What’s Yours for Medicare: Maximize Your Coverage, Minimize Your Costs and co-author of the updated edition of How to Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security, helps a reader sort out whose Social Security the couple should claim.

Got a question of your own about Medicare or Social Security? Send it to askphil@considerable.com.

Emerald: Hello Phil,

My husband was forced to take his Social Security at age 62 due to job loss. He will be 67 this August and in forced retirement for the last two years, due to multiple health issues.

I work full time and turn 65 this August and will file for Medicare plus pick up a Medicare advantage plan, which is much cheaper than my cost of my employer sponsored health insurance. I love my job and plan to work at least until 68 if my health holds up.

What is your recommendation for us since I have always been the lower earner until the last 5 years? Thank you so much for your assistance.

Phil: Dear Emerald:

Your question is a good one because it raises a lot of issues that befuddle many couples. 

First off, do you make enough at your current job to support you and your husband, or do you need his Social Security payment to make ends meet? 

If you can make do without his payment, he is allowed under Social Security rules to suspend his benefit. During the time it is suspended – from now until as late as his 70th birthday – his payment will rise at the rate of 8% a year.

Given his age, this means that the benefit he now gets will be about 25% larger when he resumed benefits at the age of 70. Of course, he would receive no benefits during the suspension period, but he would get the higher benefit for the rest of his life.

I don’t know the size of the increase in dollars, but you can find this out by looking at his benefits record. He can get this information by opening a My Social Security online account. 

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You should also open one of these accounts for yourself and see what your own benefits would be at different claiming ages. 

If you are planning to work until age 68, your husband will then be 70 and he can claim his higher benefit then.

When this happens, the key question is whether you can live on his benefit alone, or whether you also would have to file for your own Social Security then in order to make ends meet. If not, your own monthly benefit would rise by 16% between age 68 and 70.

Assuming your husband is the higher wage earner, there is another big plus should he suspend his payment and allow his benefit to grow by that 25% amount. Should he die before you (and the odds are that he will), your survivor benefit would equal his benefit and would be higher than your own.

Social Security does not allow surviving spouses to claim both their own and their late spouse’s benefit but only the larger of the two. In your case, this would be your husband’s benefit.

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