Dear Penny: Should I Marry My Boyfriend Just to Get More Social Security?

A senior citizen couple get married and leave in a red convertible.
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Dear Penny,

My boyfriend wants me to marry him so that I can take advantage of his Social Security. I am 64, and he is 74. I make about $5,000 a month right now. He gets $1,700 in Social Security benefits. 

Can he claim more Social Security benefits from me if we are married? Will marrying him help me with my Social Security? I am planning on working until I really can’t work anymore. 

My job is in health care, so it’s not easy working. Right now, I pay the mortgage and a lot of expenses.

-E. 

Dear E.,

Boosting your Social Security isn’t as simple as walking down the aisle. If that were the case, I suspect we’d be inundated with wedding invites from the 60- and 70-something people in our lives.

I don’t think either of you would get more Social Security retirement money from marrying. The rules surrounding Social Security and marriage can get complicated. But basically what you need to know is that the most you can get is 50% of your spouse’s benefit while they’re still living. The same rule applies if you’re claiming an ex-spouse’s Social Security.

Double dipping isn’t allowed. So you can claim your own benefits, or you can claim up to 50% of your spouse’s benefits, provided you’ve been married for at least a year. You don’t get to claim your own benefit plus half of a spouse’s. (The 50% cap also applies when you’re claiming an ex-spouse’s Social Security benefit.)

Claiming spousal benefits often makes sense when one spouse spent a significant part of their adult lives outside of the workforce. But you make $5,000 a month. You probably didn’t just stumble into a job that pays you $60,000 overnight. I’m guessing you have a decent work record of your own. So taking Social Security on your own earnings will almost certainly produce a higher benefit than the $850 maximum you could get based on your boyfriend’s record.



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Should the two of you marry, your boyfriend would be able to switch to your benefit when you file after you’ve been married for a year. But remember: The most he could get is 50% of your benefit. Unless you’re expecting to receive at least double the $1,700 a month he receives, he wouldn’t get an extra cent out of Social Security.

All that said, getting married could result in more Social Security for the widowed spouse when one of you dies since survivor benefits pay up to 100% of the larger benefit. But it sounds like you’re more concerned about how to increase your retirement budget for the life you’ve built together.

Unfortunately, there really are no easy ways to increase your Social Security benefits. Unless you marry someone who drastically outearned you, the solutions are basically: Work longer. Earn more money. Wait as long as possible.

But working forever and delaying Social Security until age 70 simply isn’t an option for a lot of people. You’re no doubt acutely aware of that fact, especially since you work a difficult job.

Marriage is unlikely to offer any quick fixes, but what I’m wondering is if there’s anything your boyfriend could do to make life any easier for you. It sounds like you’re under a lot of pressure between working and shouldering so many expenses.

Does he have enough savings that he could afford to contribute a little more? Any extra money you could set aside for your own retirement so you don’t feel like you need to work into old age would be a big win for you. Even if his budget is stretched to the max, does he help you out with things like cooking and household chores? Or is he willing to talk about strategies like cutting back your budget or downsizing so that you can eventually scale back on work? There may not be any easy answers, but the pressure to take care of everything shouldn’t fall on you.

Ultimately, a lot of decisions surrounding love and marriage are inextricably tied to money. But it doesn’t sound like this is one of them. Marry him if you think it would make you happier. But if you’re only contemplating marriage because you want more Social Security, don’t bother sending out save-the-dates.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].