Social Security Planning for May-December Couples

by David D. Holland




Multi-Dimensional Decision: Married couples, and especially those with a significant age difference, will need to look beyond their Social Security (SS) statements to make the most of their retirement benefits and other sources of income. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy.


Maximize: A significant age difference between spouses can create confusion on when to start SS benefits. Here’s an example: John (age 65) and Mary (age 50) were just married. Both expect to live until age 90. John’s projected benefits at his normal retirement age of 66 is $2,000 per month while Mary’s is $500 at her normal retirement age of 67. If John waits five years to start his benefits at age 70, he would get $3,000 a month. If Mary starts at age 62, she would get $940, which would be based, in part, on John’s higher earnings record. The newlyweds could enjoy an extra $150,000 in benefits over their lifetimes by marshaling other assets to provide income before drawing SS and finding the ideal combination of election ages and filing techniques.


Pitfalls: A shorter remaining lifespan of an elder spouse could pose a serious financial risk to a younger spouse with little of his/her own projected benefits. If John dies before they’ve been married nine months, Mary, his widow, wouldn’t be entitled to John’s Social Security benefits. Likewise, if they divorce before a full ten years of marriage, Mary would be entitled to none of John’s Social Security benefit (whether he is alive or not). In either scenario, unless she remarries, Mary’s retirement benefits at 62 would only be $460 based on her own earnings record.


Planning: A customized retirement income plan can assemble and direct investments (and other personal resources) in a way that makes the most of Social Security benefits and helps address the financial challenges of May-December marriages. Key personal information will need to be considered, such as: 1. assumptions about inflation and life expectancy; 2. length of the current and any prior marriages; 3. IRAs, investments, home equity and other assets; and 4. current and future sources of income. The planning takes time, but the benefits are so worthwhile!







David D. Holland, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner, hosts a weekday radio show at 9AM on AM1380 Ormond Beach, AM1230 New Smyrna Beach and AM1490 Deland. He has also authored two books in his Confessions of a Financial Planner series. Holland offers investment advice through Holland Advisory Services, Inc., a registered investment adviser in Ormond Beach. He can be contacted at (386) 671-7526. Email your financial questions to