- 6-Minute Article
- May 03, 2019
Should Married Couples Consider Retiring at the Same Time?
Coordinating plans for retirement as a married couple comes down to a few key factors.
Updated: April 20, 2023
Created in Collaboration with Kiplinger.
- What tools are available to help me review my monthly expenses?
- How can a couple’s age difference affect their plans for retirement?
- What factors should I consider when determining when to claim Social Security benefits?
Many married couples dream of being able to retire around the same time as their spouse. But is retiring together always the best plan? Or could staggering retirement dates make more sense? These can be vital questions to ask, because timing is an important and multifaceted part of a successful life in retirement. After all, couples need to consider how the decision to leave full-time careers may affect income, health benefits, lifestyle, and personal goals for both spouses.
For Debbie Averbook of Florida, retiring from her job as a hospital patient advocate soon after her husband closed his retail business in 2015 made sense. Together, they babysit the grandkids, enjoy time with friends, and are active in their synagogue. Day to day, however, they also make time to focus on pursuing their own passions.
“There’s no right or wrong way to retire,” Debbie says. “I think a lot of it depends on being ready, your communication with each other, and how you’ve functioned as a couple your whole lives.”
To help guide retirement timing, you’ll want to consider a few key factors. More often than not, successful coordination is a function of seeing how all these puzzle pieces fit together for you.
The Financial Piece
It’s a pivotal question that all pre-retirees should answer: Do we have enough saved to last and provide the retirement lifestyle we want?
Starting at least five years before their expected retirement dates, couples can work with a financial professional to help calculate their expenses. This is the monthly amount, net of taxes, a couple needs to live the lifestyle they’ve worked so hard to achieve.
Once a portfolio is poised to provide this information, a joint exit from the workplace may become feasible. “Most couples want to retire together,” says Robert Karn, a wealth manager in Connecticut. “They all want to have fun, but they can’t travel together if Steve is still working and Joan is not.”
Every couple’s expenses differ, of course, once all the variables are examined. But it’s important to do the math to better inform your decision-making. With annual spending for the average household reaching nearly $67,000,1 retiring at 65 vs. 70 may require significant after-tax income generated from a combination of Social Security, pension (if any), products offering guaranteed income, and personal savings.
Key point: The earlier couples begin analyzing potential income and expenses, the more time they have to address any gaps in their plans for retirement.
Average Annual Consumer Expenditures
Source: Consumer Expenditures 2021. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 8, 2022.
The Benefits Piece
Spousal health insurance benefits can also influence when couples decide to retire. Those with employer-provided health insurance, for instance, are more likely to work until age 65 when Medicare kicks in.2 But if one spouse is considerably younger than the other, that can be a big factor in deciding whether to retire together or separately.
Let’s say, for example, that the older spouse carries the couple’s health care coverage through work. Maintaining coverage for both partners as they age may mean choosing one of these options:
- The older spouse delays retirement until the younger spouse turns 65 and is eligible for Medicare
- The younger spouse enrolls in their employer’s retiree health insurance plan, if that type of benefit is available
- The younger spouse opts for an individual health insurance plan
- The younger spouse seeks employment where employer-sponsored health insurance benefits are available
- The younger spouse temporarily uses COBRA to extend employer health coverage (for qualifying employers, COBRA allows spouse and dependent coverage at full cost for up to 18 months after leaving a job)
Social Security is part of the decision too. That’s because waiting to claim benefits until after full retirement age (66 to 67, depending on when you were born) will increase monthly payments by about 8% per year, up to age 70.3 You’re eligible to file for Social Security as early as age 62, but benefits will be permanently reduced. To maximize their benefits, many married couples claim benefits for one spouse at full retirement age but delay the other spouse’s claim, which allows that second benefit to grow.
The Impact of Age on Claiming Social Security
Here’s how the age you begin taking Social Security can affect the amount of your monthly benefit. A $1,000 retirement benefit at full retirement age (67 for those born in 1960 or later) would decrease or increase to:
Source: Benefits Planner. Social Security Administration, as of April 2023.
Age differences can play a key role here as well. Studies show that women in heterosexual couples are typically about two years younger than their male partners.4 Additionally, women tend to live longer than men. As a result, women may be more likely to run out of their retirement savings.5 Working longer could give couples more time to save for retirement and also decrease the time spent depending solely on Social Security income.
The upshot: Married couples with big age differences may need to consider planning for different retirement dates – and weigh the impact of this scenario on key benefits and retirement portfolio strategies.
The Emotional Piece
Each person likely has his or her own vision of retirement. And while many partners’ hopes and expectations may be in sync, this isn’t always the case, notes Sara Zeff Geber, Ph.D., a certified retirement coach and organizational psychologist in California.
“If one person says, ‘My work isn’t giving my life meaning and purpose; I’m done,’ but the other one says, ‘I’m really invested in my work and love it,’ they shouldn’t retire at the same time,” Dr. Geber explains.
Some couples may be ready at the same time but have differing lifestyle expectations. “The most common mistake I see people making is not talking to their spouse about what retirement should look like,” she says. This lack of communication often leads to some erroneous assumptions about everything from where you’ll live to what your roles will be to how much time you’ll spend together.
To make sure both individuals are on the same page, it’s helpful to talk about balancing each other’s views early and often. The idea is to pinpoint and address any conflicts before you retire.
Planning for Change
When choosing whether to retire together or separately, also think about how feelings and circumstances may change in the future. A couple who chooses to stagger their retirement now may regret that decision later if one partner’s failing health keeps them from checking destinations off a travel bucket list. Another couple may enjoy more time together early on but miss the additional savings later that working longer could have provided.
Bottom line: Many couples choose to begin their journey into retirement together, but there are several points to consider as that decision comes into view. Talk with your financial professional about these issues so you’re better prepared to make a decision that’s right for both of you.