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Financial penalties may quell senior citizens' desire to take a trip down the aisle

An increasing number of older Americans are cohabiting instead of marrying. Experts say a mosaic of financial-related rules may be largely responsible.
Lois M. Collins, Deseret News Modified: May 1, 2014 at 5:39 pm •  Published: May 2, 2014

An increasing number of older Americans are cohabiting instead of marrying. A mosaic of financial-related, not always marriage-friendly rules may be largely responsible for keeping older singles from tying the knot.

As New York Times writer Stanley Luxenberg puts it: "Americans have long been retreating from marriage. While more people of all ages are living together, the growth of unmarried couples is fastest among the older segment of the population. In 2010, 2.8 million people aged 50 and over cohabited, up from 1.2 million in 2000, according to the United States Census Bureau. For many, the decision to remain single is a matter of money. A partner who remarries stands to lose alimony, Social Security or a survivor’s pension."

“Young people may be eager to marry for love, but older couples are more practical and worry about paying the bills,” Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology at the University of Washington, told Luxenburg.

Couples who are considering marrying when they're older can be concerned about a number of financial issues, inheritance rules or other things. Dating partners who were each widowed, for instance, may be interested in but unsure how to protect their individual assets for their own children, worried that if they marry, state community property and other inheritance laws will complicate things.

The financial reasons cited by Sheri and Bob Stritof, Ask.com's marriage experts, include tax disincentives, loss of military and pension benefits, fear of being stuck with a partner's medical expenses or credit rating or existing debt, ability to share expenses, health insurance, protecting assets, alimony and Social Security benefits. That last one, they note, causes a lot of confusion.

According to the Social Security Administration: "In general, you cannot receive survivors benefits if you remarry before the age of 60 unless the latter marriage ends, whether by death, divorce, or annulment. If you remarry after age 60 (50 if disabled), you can still collect benefits on your former spouse's record. When you reach age 62 or older, you may get retirement benefits on the record of your new spouse if they are higher."