It’s no secret that married couples in the US are eligible for a variety of nuptial benefits, like tax breaks, deductions, estate planning, and so on. But what most people don’t know if that there are retirement benefits as well, and some that single retirement savers are not eligible for. What those benefits are differ depending on what type of retirement plan you invest in, so let’s break them down.
If both people in a marriage are working and earning income both have a 401k can defer income tax twice as much cash as single people. Couples who are only able to save a limited amount can decide which 401k has the better employer contributions, and focus their savings efforts there, but the ideal situation would be getting matches from both employers. It’s silly to turn down free money. Between 1992 and 2010, married women’s contributions to retirement accounts increased from 20 percent to 38 percent, on average, according to a Government Accountability Office analysis of Federal Reserve data. And among dual-earner households ages 55 to 64 with 401ks or similar types of accounts, women contributed an average of 44 percent of the household’s deposits in retirement accounts.
Individual Retirement Accounts
According to IRS rules regarding IRAs, married couples have different income limits than individuals when it comes to their ability to make tax-deductible IRA contributions if they also have retirement accounts at work, such as a 401K. For example, the tax deduction for traditional IRA contributions is phased out for married couples with a modified adjusted gross income between $96,000 and $116,000, compared to between $60,000 and $70,000 for individuals. An individual who doesn’t have a workplace retirement account, but is married to someone who does have one can claim the tax deduction until the couple’s income is between $181,000 and $191,000. The adjusted gross income phase out range for Roth IRAs is $181,000 to $191,000 for married couples and $114,000 to $129,000 for unmarried individuals.
Married individuals have Social Security claiming options that single people don’t, and they can use various strategies to maximize their benefit as a married couple. Spouses are eligible to receive Social Security payments worth as much as 50 percent of the retired worker’s benefit (if it’s more than they would get based on their own work record), and surviving spouses are entitled to up to 100 percent of the higher earner’s benefit. Married individuals can also claim spousal payments and benefits based on their own work record at different times in their lives. For example, a wife claiming Social Security payments based on her own work record might switch to survivor’s payments based on her husband’s work record when he passes away if his payment is higher than the one she is getting. Couples have an advantage in that they can play the game a little bit and try some strategies, a widow’s benefit is going to be based on whatever his final benefit is, so by waiting until age 70, if something does happen to him, she will get that higher benefit. Divorced spouses can get these payments too if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. In contrast, single people or divorced individuals whose marriage did not last a decade can only claim benefits based on their own work record.
Traditional pensions generally provide a steady stream of payments over the lifetime of the retiree and are also required to provide payments to a surviving spouse. However, more than a third of married households with pensions opted not to receive a spousal survivor benefit, often to get higher monthly payments, the Government Accountability Office found. But a worker who wishes to opt out of the spousal coverage needs written consent from the spouse. Some pension plans also give workers the option to take lump-sum cash payments instead of lifetime payments, which allows them greater freedom to spend or invest the money, but also results in the loss of the security of guaranteed monthly payments in old age.