The idea behind Social Security retirement benefits is simple: you pay in during your working years, and in return, you receive a steady stream of income during your retirement years. But that simple idea is remarkably complicated in its implementation. Social Security has more than 2,700 separate rules governing SS benefits.

Figuring out which of those rules apply to you — and how to use them to your best advantage — is a difficult task. That’s doubly true if you’re married. Couples must contend with rules that interact, thus creating many additional variables that can affect future benefits. In some cases, a wife (or a husband) may be eligible for “spousal benefits” based on the other person’s earnings.

Since Social Security likely will account for a significant portion of your retirement income, it’s wise — and potentially lucrative — to invest time in learning how your benefits are determined and how you can maximize those benefits. Using an online Social Security calculator — or, better yet, multiple calculators — can help.

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