A. Deciding when to collect get a little more complicated if you're married. When a married person claims benefits, you're eligible for what you've earned or up to half of your living spouse's full retirement benefit, whichever is higher.
A low earning spouse who is relying on spousal benefits takes an even bigger early claiming hit than a primary wage earner -- if he or she claims benefits at 62, they get just 35 percent of the primary earner's full retirement age check, instead of 50 percent. On the other hand, there are no extra benefits for waiting past full retirement age to claim that spousal check. That means this is the one case where no matter how you slice it, waiting past the "full retirement age" of 66 doesn't net you an extra dime.
The catch is that a spouse can't claim 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.
But not so fast!
We know that the husband will receive a bigger benefit if he waits until he's 70. He can still wait and cash in on that delayed payday by requesting that his claim and his benefits be immediately suspended. That way, he then can continue to wait for a bigger benefit, while his wife is now eligible to claim her spousal benefits.
It's tricky, but if you familiarize yourself with the basic rules, you'll be okay.
Another thing to remember for married people: If one partner dies, the survivor can claim the deceased spouse's check instead of his or her own, assuming the deceased spouse's check is bigger. The general rule of thumb for married couples is that at least one partner (usually the higher earning one) should delay benefits well past 66. This is "longevity insurance" for you both.
One final thing to remember: Regardless of when you take Social Security and when you stop working, you need to enroll in Medicare when you first become eligible at 65, or you could face financial penalties in the form of higher premiums.