Improving Claiming Choices for Recipients of Social Security Spousal Benefits
What was the challenge?
Individual choices—including the age at which individuals claim Social Security benefits, whether and how much to work during retirement, and how to manage claiming decisions jointly with their spouse—play an important role in how well these benefits protect against the risks of outliving one’s savings. Some older adults who receive spousal Social Security benefits would receive higher benefits based on their own earnings. In 2014, the Social Security Administration (SSA) informed 25,401 people that this could be the case for them. Just under half (46%) filed for and began receiving benefits under their own Social Security Number, with an average monthly increase in benefits of $334. Those who did not file for their own benefits may lose out on benefits they are due.
What did we do?
SSA and OES piloted opportunities to help the public make more informed decisions about claiming Social Security retirement benefits. In one pilot, OES worked with SSA to redesign the notice informing spousal benefit recipients that they might receive a higher benefit if they applied for retirement benefits on their own record. The redesigned notice simplified the language and emphasized the action steps that recipients needed to take. The Intervention Pack shows the original and redesigned letters, and describes the best practices adopted in the re-design for effective communications.
What did we learn?
SSA mailed the notice in May 2016 to roughly 9,000 spousal beneficiaries, age 70 and older, whose data suggested they were entitled to larger benefits.