There are some common mistakes that spouses make about social Security when they claim, or fail to claim benefits.  Some of us pop in and out of the workforce over decades.  While these tricky situations are more common among women, some males who may be stay at home dads and earn significantly less than their wives or find themselves widowed, are thus at risk for the same missteps.  Same sex couples are subject to identical Social Security rules.

Income Tax

The income thresholds are very low, so most people end up paying tax on at least some of the social security benefits.  A common mistake is not withholding enough tax from your Social Security income.

When a wealthier spouse passes, their tax bracket can increase substantially and often jump up one or two brackets.  Now they are filing taxes as an individual, and their income taxes increase.


Many people do not realize that their Medicare premiums come right out of their Social Security check.  Medicare has its own set of tax brackets.  It is sad to note that moving from a joint tax bracket to single, your Part B premium could jump up.

Estimated Taxes

Retirees do not know how often they have to pay quarterly estimates on their income in retirement.  Your income from IRA accounts, investments are subject to taxes, and often you need to pay the IRS quarterly estimates.

Claiming Social Security Early

Once you decide to start your Social Security payment at 62, it will stay there and not increase when you turn 66.  Many people do not realize this and think they will get more later.

A Misconception

For someone that has popped in and out of their career over the years, they may assume that they do not quality for Social Security because they didn’t have 10 consecutive years of earnings.  The requirement for Social Security is not 10 consecutive years; it is whatever your earnings are over your lifetime.


They assume that because they didn’t work in the labor force, they will not receive Social Security.  You are entitled to half of your spouse’s benefits.  This benefit was designed specifically for at home spouses.  Gender does not matter, you just need to be married.

Couples with a younger spouse, retiring

If you want to retire, and your homemaker spouse is younger than full retirement age, what is the impact?  The homemaker’s spousal reduction factor is higher than that of the spouse who was one in the workforce.  Both spouses get penalized for claiming early, but the reduction for the younger one, who has not reached FRA, is more aggressive.

Widow’s benefits

Often a spouse becomes widowed between 52 and 60, and their kids are grown and gone. They do not realize they have to wait until they are 60 to get their benefits. For some, this makes an impossible situation, and they are left with an income dilemma.  The mistake is thinking they can take widow’s benefits as soon as they become widowed.

Another rude awakening

When a spouse passes away, one of the Social Security checks will go away, and the widow will take the higher social security check.  This mistake is assuming that they will continue to receive two checks.  It is important to plan for this reduction in their household income.

Divorce and Remarried

Divorced women who were previously married 10 consecutive years or longer, and meet all of the Social Security rules for a divorced person have the following choices.  They cannot choose between their ex’s benefits or their current spouse’s benefits until they are both dead, and you are the remaining spouse.  At that point, Social Security looks at all the benefits: yours, your first spouse, and your second spouse.  You receive the benefits that are highest, but you do not get to add your own.  You will only receive one benefit.

Windfall Elimination Provision

If you have a hybrid career, where you work partly for the government, which does not withhold Social Security taxes, and worked partly in corporate America, which does withhold taxes, your Social Security benefit pays second to the pension, and those benefits will be reduced.  So, let’s say you have been receiving $3000/m pension, plus $1500 Social Security.  When you spouse dies, you will lose the $1500.

Another note, some pensions are higher when you retire before Full Retirement Age, and then reduce when you start collecting Social Security.

All of these examples are here to help you plan properly and note that during retirement, there may be some reductions in income, so it is still a great idea to keep your life insurance benefit.