Category Archives: Social Security

Your Local Social Security Office: Who Can Help

SSA-image-3My Comments: There are a lot of good people working for the Social Security Administration. It’s just that some of them are not equipped to answer your questions. This leads to frustration and sometimes making the wrong choices. Here’s an article that might be helpful if you have questions of them and need the right answer.

Devin Carroll | February 17, 2017

I help a lot of clients with Social Security. One thing they all have in common is that they’ve called their local Social Security office at least once. Most of these calls have ended in frustration. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you know who to ask for, you’ll get the help you need.

I often consult with individuals throughout the nation regarding Social Security issues. For some, it’s simply determining how their filing strategy fits in with their overall retirement plan and making sure they haven’t missed anything. For others, I help solve complex Social Security problems. Many that I help would never call me if they would have received a satisfactory answer and solid advice when they called their local Social Security office. So I may be hurting myself slightly, but I can’t stand to see any more bad, and sometimes non-reversible, decisions made as a result of incorrect guidance from the Social Security Administration.

I’m going to tell you who to ask for the next time you call.

The Hierarchy at the Social Security Office

If you’ve ever been to your local Social Security office, you’ve probably seen a maze of cubicles and possibly more employees than you expected. All these people have a role and handle very specific areas of Social Security benefits. Within each Social Security office there is a hierarchy of representatives. Not all are created equal. For retirement and disability benefits, the Social Security employee will most likely have one of the following titles.

Service representatives have the responsibility of handling general inquiries, fixing simple post-claim issues and answering the phones. Simply put, they are generalists. Although this is the first position for a new hire, I wouldn’t automatically discount their experience. Some service representatives begin—and end—a long Social Security career with the same title. Just understand, the service representative that answers your call may be a six-month employee or a 25-year employee.

Claims Representative

The claims representative is there for one reason: to assist individuals in filing claims to benefits under Social Security programs. Unless you are ready to process your claim, you’ll have little interaction with this representative.

Technical Expert

The technical experts handle the complex cases and do the stuff that’s too complicated for the others. Those I’ve come in contact with have exhibited a deep understanding of the rules and provisions of the Social Security programs. But you won’t find them answering the phones or meeting with just anyone. Normally, you have to be referred by a service representative or a claims representative to get in front of the technical expert.

How to Get Help

The next time you call (or visit) your local Social Security office, you’ll speak to a service representative. Give them a chance and they may be able to help you. However, if you have ANY doubt about what you’re being told, it’s time to escalate. Ask them to let you speak to a technical expert. It may take a while, but eventually you’ll be able speak to the most knowledgeable person in the office.


How to Have a Comfortable Retirement on Social Security Alone

SSA-image-3My Comments: Some of the folks who attend my workshops on SS benefits planning reveal that they have virtually no other resources to fund their retirement. That’s a challenge, especially for those whose lives were spent in physical labor of some kind and simply can’t continue working that way.

There is real pain in their eyes when they now hear that whatever they can expect to come from Social Security may be cut. I try to persuade them this is highly unlikely given their current age and the numbers they can see on the SSA.GOV web site.

I’m careful not to remind them, especially those from rural areas nearby, that the person they voted for in the last election is among those who are promoting a reduction in their benefits.

By Rebecca Lake | January 13, 2017

Is it possible to have a comfortable retirement on Social Security alone? It’s a necessary question, because although saving for retirement should be at the top of your financial to-do list, for many Americans it often ends up slipping through the cracks. According to PwC’s 2016 Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 33% of Baby Boomers say they’re worried about running out of money in retirement, while 47% of all workers have less than $50,000 tucked away for their later years.

Having a Comfortable Retirement on Social Security Alone

Social Security is one way to supplement retirement income when your savings fall short, but it only goes so far. As of November 2016 the average monthly retirement benefit was just $1,309. If you’re headed toward retirement with a nest egg that’s smaller than you’d like, you’ll need a game plan for making do with Social Security alone, so let’s see what we can come up with.

Who’s Banking on Social Security?

Nearly nine out of 10 Americans aged 65 or older currently receive Social Security. The Social Security Administration estimates that 21% of married couples and 43% of single seniors rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 36% of near-retirees say they expect Social Security to be a major source of income once they retire. (For more, see How Social Security Works After Retirement.)

Income and the time frame to save for retirement seem to be major factors in determining who’s going to be more dependent on Social Security. In the Gallup poll, for example, 48% of non-retirees aged 55 and older and 45% of those making less than $30,000 said that Social Security would account for a large chunk of their retirement income.

When Social Security is your primary or only source of funds in retirement, it takes some creativity to make those dollars go further. Making certain adjustments can help you to navigate retirement without leaving like you’re feeling broke. Here are four concrete steps you can take.

Downsize Your Home
Housing costs can easily eat up your Social Security benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that seniors aged 65 to 74 spend approximately 32% of their household income on housing each year. That amount climbs to 36.5% at age 75.

Trading in your current home for something smaller can help to cut down on what you’re spending. A reduction of even $100 a month could make a significant difference in the type of lifestyle you’re able to maintain. Avoid the Downsides of Downsizing in Retirement can help you handle this decision intelligently. If the numbers really don’t work out well in your current location, consider moving to a region with a lower cost of living (See Least Expensive States to Retire In) – or even moving abroad

Streamline Your Other Expenses

If you’ve managed to make your housing more affordable, the next step is reducing or eliminating other household spending. If you’ve got credit card debt or a car loan, for example, you’d want to get those paid off as quickly as possible. Then you can move on to cutting down things such as your utility bills, transportation expenses and food budget. (For more, see 5 Ways to Stretch Your Retirement Budget.)

The key question that you must ask is what do you really need to have an enjoyable retirement and what can you live without? Could you ditch cable TV, for example, in favor of watching TV online (see The 4 Best Ways to Cut the Cord) or pursuing a low-budget hobby? If you own two cars but you and your spouse are both retired, could you sell one of them? Making these kinds of decisions can be tough, but they can make your transition to retirement on Social Security a much smoother one in the long run.

Keep Healthcare Costs Under Control

Healthcare is another potential trouble spot for which you need to plan, especially if you have an existing medical condition. While Medicare can cover some of the costs beginning at age 65, it doesn’t pay for everything. If you’ve retired and your income is exclusively coming from Social Security, you’ll need to look beyond Medicare to pay for your medical expenses.

Medicaid, for example, is available to low-income seniors, and you can have this coverage along with Medicare. It’s designed to pick up the tab for things Medicare doesn’t cover, including long-term care. State-sponsored Medicare Savings Programs help with the cost of Medicare premiums, while the Extra Help program helps with prescription drug costs. Just keep in mind that your ability to qualify for these programs is based on your age, income and in some cases your disability status. (For more, see Medicare 101: Do You Need All 4 Parts? and 10 Best States for Affordable Senior Care.)

Delay Taking Social Security as Long as You Can

Normal retirement age is 67 these days for most seniors, but you can begin taking your Social Security benefits as early as 62. The problem is that if you do so, you’ll see your benefits reduced for each year you take benefits ahead of schedule.

On the other hand, if you can put off taking your benefits past full retirement age, you’ll see your monthly benefit check increase. For someone who was born in 1943 or later and waits until age 70 to apply for Social Security, the increase should come to 8%. Those extra dollars could come in handy if you don’t have any other retirement money to fall back on.

The Bottom Line

Social Security isn’t a substitute for building a solid retirement base, and if you’ve still got time before you retire, consider looking for ways to shore up your savings. Start by chipping in as much as you reasonably can to your employer’s retirement plan, especially if it comes with a matching contribution. If you don’t have a 401(k) or similar plan at work, an individual retirement account (IRA) is another way to grow your savings. The more you set aside now, the less pressure you’ll feel to make your Social Security benefits stretch.

Nevertheless, if you have to stretch them, cutting overhead, controlling healthcare costs and delaying taking Social Security can make a big difference. For more ideas, see Retirement Strategies for Low Income Seniors. And if the numbers really don’t work out well, consider

How To Maximize Your Social Security Benefits

My Comments: Sometimes simple is better, much better. I found these words recently and am sharing them here since so many people are now making the transition to retirement. It’s a stressful time for a lot of reasons and the more you understand the financial dynamics involved, the less stressed out you’ll be.

January 11, 2017 / MoneyTips Staff

Retirement approaches, and you are struggling to figure out how to make the most of your Social Security benefits. The rules are hard to decipher and the Social Security Administration does not generally give case-specific advice. We cannot decipher Social Security in a few hundred words — not even the Social Security Administration can do that — but we can offer the following helpful secrets to maximize your Social Security benefits.

Time your filing appropriately — You have the option of drawing benefits as early as age 62 or as late as 70. Most advisors suggest delaying filing for benefits until age 70, because your monthly benefits will increase by 8 percent annually for every year you wait past your full retirement age (FRA). Conversely, filing early will decrease your monthly benefits by up to 30 percent.

How long will you live? — Your expected lifespan is the key to your choice. If you file early, you will get less in each check — but you will be receiving checks for more years. Delaying only works if you live long enough and can afford to wait to draw your benefits. Also, delaying only increases benefits on your own record, not spousal or survivor benefits.

Change your mind (once) — If you decide you have made the wrong choice in filing for benefits, you have a one-time opportunity to change your mind within the first 12 months of receiving benefits. However, you will have to repay any benefits you and your family received, as well as any amounts withheld from your benefits for payments like Medicare premiums.

Hold off on divorce — Had enough after nine years of marriage? Hang on for at least one more year to improve your benefit options. You can still file for spousal benefits on an ex-spouse’s income history if you were married for at least 10 years.

Spousal vs. widow/widower benefits — Widow/widower benefits have one big advantage over spousal benefits — widows/widowers can start drawing benefits on their own earnings history and switch to survivor’s benefits later, or use the reverse order and draw survivor’s benefits first and draw on their own history later, even when the widow/widower files before his or her FRA.

Work at least 35 years — The calculation of benefits is quite complex, although online calculators are available to help you estimate your own Social Security benefits. The key is to have at least 35 years of work experience prior to retirement. Social Security is based on the highest-earning 35 years of your career. If you only worked 33 years, two zeroes will be included in your benefit calculations — so hanging on for a few extra years can disproportionately increase your benefits.

Keep in mind that your early earning years are indexed for annual changes in average wages, so a seemingly lower salary twenty or thirty years ago may be comparable with your current salary in adjusted terms.

Seek SSDI representation — Any watcher of daytime TV will find many ads for lawyers offering help for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) cases. Should you become disabled, it is wise to seek legal representation at the time of your initial application. The process is not always straightforward and an initial denial can take significant time to reverse.

We offer one final piece of advice that is not a secret: It is very difficult to retire comfortably on Social Security benefits alone. Maximize your benefits to the extent that you can, but make sure that you save separately for your retirement as well. Social Security is a lot less stressful when you can consider it as supplementary income.

Let the free MoneyTips Retirement Planner help you calculate when you can retire without jeopardizing you.

5 Totally Free Ways to Get Ready for Retirement Using the Social Security Website

SSA-image-3My Comments: There is a lot of talk these days about the Trump administration wreaking havoc with something that has become synonymous with retirement for many millions of Americans. But I have my doubts since those same millions also vote and are unlikely to sit by idly if their benefits are threatened.

Yes, you have reason to be nervous (I am…) but no need to panic. So… look for changes that will help Social Security become more financially robust as the years pass and respond pro-actively to changes in society. Things like raising the limit on earnings that are subject to the FICA taxes and possibly raising the age to start taking benefits. Those are realistic options that you must encourage our elected leaders to explore.

In the meantime, do as the writer says and open an online account. Once set up, the site is remarkedly user friendly, and good information is everywhere.

Karen Damato on January 5, 2017

Check out your options.

You’ve paid into Social Security for decades. Now, as retirement approaches, it’s time to figure out how to get the most from the system. Among all the guides and online tools that can help, don’t overlook the many resources—all free—on the Social Security website.

Here are five steps you should take, sooner rather than later, at as you work to master the sometimes surprising math of Social Security.

1. Sign up for a My Social Security account. You can use your online account to generate, at your convenience, a statement showing your Social Security earnings and estimated payouts (more on that in a minute)–and, later, to manage your benefits. Another reason to open an account is to protect yourself: Identity thieves can potentially hijack your benefits by opening a fraudulent account in your name. You can block their access by getting there first, cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs has written on his blog.

2. Review your Social Security statement. Check that the earnings posted to your account are correct. (You should do this at least every few years.) You’ll also see estimates of your future benefits–and benefits for your family–based on a couple of assumptions.

For people who don’t have an online account, the Social Security Administration mails printed statements a few months before you reach 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60. You’ll get them annually after that if you aren’t already receiving Social Security benefits. You can also fill out a form to request a printed Social Security statement be mailed to you.

3. Check out the impact of early or late retirement. The Social Security website has simple tables that show you how much your benefit will be reduced or increased from your full benefit amount based on your exact age (in years and months) when you begin. This retirement planner for full retirement age shows the FRA for each birth year. Click on your year of birth to see exactly how much your benefit would be reduced by each month of early claiming. (While the tables show the haircut for claiming as early as age 62, note that the vast majority of people actually can’t start until one month after their 62nd birthday.)

There’s a similar tool that lets you see the benefit of any delayed retirement credits you’d earn by deferring the start of benefits past your FRA. On the right side of the screen, use the dropdown menu to select your year of birth and hit “Change” to see a month-by-month table.

4. Do some simple calculations. Social Security’s Retirement Estimator is a handy first stop to explore your future benefits because it can incorporate your earnings history from the Social Security database. That keeps you from having to type in all those year-by-year figures.

5. Explore more what-ifs. The Retirement Estimator may not let you explore all the scenarios you would like. If that’s the case, move on to the most flexible tool that Social Security offers, the Detailed Calculator. It enables you to play around with various estimates of future part-time earnings and possibilities for when you might stop work and when you might start collecting.

Plan to commit some time and brainpower to figuring this tool out. It isn’t intuitive and doesn’t have a snazzy interface. You must download the Detailed Calculator to your computer, and it might not work on your particular system. But if you read the instructions carefully, it’s not hard to get comfortable with. Unlike with the Retirement Estimator, you will need to type in your history of year-by-year earnings (which probably won’t be as big a hassle as you are thinking at this minute)–but then you can keep changing your estimated future earnings to see the impact of various work scenarios.

You can save your earnings history and come back to the tool over and over.

What To Do If Social Security Is Your Primary Source of Retirement Income

SSA-image-3My Comments: There is talk in Washington that future Social Security benefits will be cut. How real this is I have no idea. But the fact it’s even talked about suggests the threat today is higher than before. I’m not talking about what might happen in 2035, but in 2017.

If you are not yet 62, much less a few years away from your Full Retirement Age (FRA) you better consider that your future benefits from Social Security will not be as robust as you were led to believe.

Henry K. Hebeler | January 3, 2017

Here’s a do-it-yourself plan for low savers, but be aware than not even a professional planner can foresee all the financial surprises that occur in all of our lives that can come from such things as an elderly parent or other relative who needs help, a collapsing stock market, high inflation, disability, or living beyond our original estimate of life expectancy.

The list of unknowns is large, so we counter that by making a new plan as needed, just as a commander does when the enemy changes tactics. We’ll also cover some common ways to enhance retirement income. That said, a professional planner can add perspective and help on investments, insurance, estate planning and annual budgeting. Click through to see what you need to know.

Determine how much emergency money you will need
A fair estimate might be one year of your Social Security payments. The most likely use of much of this will be for uninsured dental, hearing and sight expenses.These are not covered by Medicare and most Medi-gap policies. Other emergency uses include replacement and maintenance of autos, plumbing, furnace, appliances and furnishings. Emergency funds might be a source to help a relative, make a sudden trip, and other things which might otherwise be unaffordable.

It’s not good to use credit for such items when retired. If you do not have an emergency fund, start building one, perhaps with a part-time job or make an allowance in your retirement budget to build one within a reasonably short number of years. Retirement debts are negative investments — mostly with higher interest rates than the rates retirees get from their portfolio.

I believe it’s good to retire without a mortgage, but if your interest rates are modest and the years to pay off the mortgage are not more than a decade away, I’d not use savings to pay the remaining mortgage. When it does gets paid, they’re be some extra funds available to compensate for inflation, the constant need for home maintenance and ever increasing medical costs.

Calculate the amount of your savings that can be used for annual income

To get that, start with your current savings. Then subtract emergency funds, any debts other than your mortgage, and any known commitments for large cash outlays. Further subtract any savings you would use to reach the age you will start Social Security.

To calculate the annual income you can get from the residual savings, divide the net savings by your remaining retirement life expectancy. You can get a personal life-expectancy estimate from sites such as

For example: $300,000 savings less $100,000 for emergency funds, credit-card debt and delayed Social Security leaves $200,000. If you take $200,000 net savings divided by a life expectancy of 20 years, you would get an annual inflation-adjusted budget from savings of $10,000 if you can invest with a return equal or greater than inflation.

If you will get a pension, calculate the annual value accounting for whatever reductions come from choosing a survival benefit for your spouse
If it is not a cost-of-living-adjusted (COLA) pension, multiply the annual amount by your current age divided by 100. This is an approximate way of making a COLA adjustment because you then will be setting aside part of your pension to be used later to compensate for inflation. Example:$20,000 annual fixed-payment times 65 for this retirement age divided by 100 = $13,000 pension for this do-it-yourself calculation.

Get your annual Social Security income from If you have a spouse, add the spouse’s Social Security income which you can get from the same site with both of your Social Security numbers.

The primary earner must file before a spousal benefit is payable. Usually a lower-earning spouse gets 50% of the primary earner’s full-retirement-age benefit if the spouse starts at the spouse’s full retirement age and less if starting earlier.

Add the annual amounts you can get from savings, pension and Social Security
This is your pre-tax annual source of retirement funds from which you can determine a budget based on the retirement conditions you foresee. Unlike the federal government, you cannot spend more than this, so figure out a budget distribution that fits your income level. If it’s at all possible while still working, try living on this budget for six months to refine the numbers.

The bad news
One of the major differences between budgets when working and retirement is health insurance because employers have paid the lion’s share for you. Now you will have to pay for Medicare, a Medigap policy and the uninsured charges — usually dental, ear and eye-care costs as well as what might be a large deductible before the insurance will pay anything. Fidelity estimates that the total retirement costs for health insurance, Medicare and uninsured bills will be $260,000. This does not include long-term-care, which Fidelity says average $130,000 per couple. This often leads to Medicaid for those who have spent their assets down to a few thousand dollars. Not all doctors and facilities for the aged will accept Medicaid, so if this looks like part of the journey you may have to take, do some detailed research on welfare for your location and dentists willing to do pro bono work.

There’s some hope for low savers

Part-time jobs are a common source of additional income, but become more difficult for the elderly.

Home downsizing, done early rather than late, can add to retirement savings as well as reduced-living costs. Some live with relatives or even friends to reduce cash outflows. Moving to another location might have lower costs and benefit from a nearby relative that might provide some assistance.
By far, the best thing that low-saving people can do is to delay the start of Social Security payments, whether it be by working longer or using savings to support the delay. It is virtually impossible to count on investments to beat the lifetime benefits from the 6% to 8% increase each year of Social Security delay plus an inflation boost, especially when the generous spousal and survivor benefits are included. The primary earner gets a 67% lifetime boost in Social Security income when starting at 70 instead of 62. Further, it’s impossible to beat Social Security’s longevity benefits with insurance. And Social Security benefits from a lower tax rate.

Few people know that even after you have started Social Security, you can suspend Social Security payments as long as you are more than your full-retirement age, but less than 70 years old. Each year of suspension will increase benefits by 8% from the payment amounts the year suspension began. And each of those years will bring lifetime inflation increases. See for more information.

A Primer on Social Security Spousal Benefits

SSA-image-3My Comments: For many millions of us, the monthly Social Security check keeps us housed, fed, and clothed. This is something society has provided for it’s elder citizens since civilizations appeared on the planet. The way it’s accomplished has changed, but the basic premise has not.

Why is that some we have put in charge of rule making have concluded this is a waste of their money? Why did we put them in charge in the first place? How many of us have to starve or simply find a way to die quickly before common sense prevails?

The reality is a Republican has introduced legislation that could very easily put Social Security back on track to remain viable for another 50 years. Do you think it has a chance of passing? What follows is my weekly attempt to help anyone better understand the workings of our Social Security system. I’ll report on the proposed legislation as the next Tuesday’s roll around.

by Robert Powell | December 9, 2016

Q: I am 69, and I started drawing my Social Security benefits when I was 66. My husband, who is 62, is still working. My question: Can he draw on my Social Security benefits (receiving 50%) until he is 66? Can we get the forms on the Internet? He works the third shift and asked if I could help him since Social Security offices are not open at night. — Carolyn Farlow, Reno

A: Bad news times three.
First, if your husband takes spousal Social Security at 62, he doesn’t get 50% of your payment, he only gets 35%, because of early filing, says Andy Landis, author of Social Security: The Inside Story: An Expert Explains Your Rights and Benefits. “He would have to wait until 66 to start the Social Security to get the full 50% payment,” Landis says.

Second, Landis says if your husband files before 66 he has to file for both the spousal and his own Social Security. “That means there would be a permanent reduction in both kinds of payments,” he says.

And third, since your husband is under 66, his work can reduce his Social Security even further, says Landis.

After all those cautions, your husband might still choose to file for Social Security, says Landis. If so, you can get started at Apply for Benefits. Before you do, you might run your situation through a free adviser such as that found at the Financial Engines website.

Says Landis: “Congratulations for planning ahead.”

Getting 88% More from Social Security

SSA-image-3My Comments: 88% seems like an irrational number. Whether it is or not, and depending on how you want and expect your life to play out, the dollars you get from Social Security are likely to contribute greatly to your financial peace of mind and standard of living down the road. If you don’t make sure you understand how this works, you are likely to have regrets before it’s all over.

Jean Folger | December 7, 2016

If you could get 88% more from Social Security benefits, then you would, right? As the majority of Americans rely – at least to some degree – on Social Security benefits to fund their later years, it seems like a no-brainer. To do it, however, you need a basic understanding of how benefits work and the steps you can take to maximize them.

The biggest danger – and opportunity – comes if you’ve had a gap in your life that means you don’t have 35 years of earnings on your record when you’re planning to start your benefits. That’s the important finding of a new working paper from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

According to the paper, 46% of women and 15% of men could replace a zero-income year by working until age 63 instead of 62, if they’d been planning to retire early. And if late-career income can replace a zero in your benefits calculation, you could lock in a higher benefit. The benefit becomes staggering if you also work – and wait to collect – until you are 70.

Women vs. Men
Spending an extra year at work to ensure that you have a full 35 years of earnings on your record can boost your benefits in two ways: You’ll have more earnings factored into the Social Security calculation, plus you’ll delay receiving benefits for one more year. If you start receiving payments before your normal retirement age (which falls between age 65 and 67, depending on the year you were born), your benefits will be permanently reduced. What’s more, every year you wait beyond normal retirement age until you turn 70 increases your benefit by 8%.

According to the Center for Retirement Research paper, a woman could boost her benefit by as much as 88% by replacing a zero-income year (by working an additional year) and by waiting until age 70 to collect. For men, a similar scenario would result in an 82% bump.

“Women stand to benefit most from working longer because they tend to have more zeroes in their earnings records,” Matthew Rutledge, a research economist and author of the paper, told CNBC. On average women spend 29 years in the workforce, compared with 38 years for men. The difference? Women take an average of five-and-a-half years away from work to care for children and another 1.2 years to care for an older adult.

As the paper explains, if late-career earnings increase your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) by $1 (AIME is the average of the highest 35 years of wage-inflation-indexed earnings, divided by 12), your benefit will increase by 90 cents if you have very low career earnings, by 32 cents if you’re like most workers, and by 15 cents if you’re a higher earner.

Particularly likely to benefit are stay-at-home parents, those who have suffered a long-term illness or injury, and those who otherwise have gaps in their careers. “We were really surprised at how many people have zeroes in that top 35, especially women,” said Rutledge to CNBC.

Women vs. Men
Spending an extra year at work to ensure that you have a full 35 years of earnings on your record can boost your benefits in two ways: You’ll have more earnings factored into the Social Security calculation, plus you’ll delay receiving benefits for one more year (remember, your benefit goes up 8% each year that you wait past normal retirement age).

According to the Center for Retirement Research paper, a woman could boost her benefit by as much as 88% by replacing a zero-income year (by working an additional year) – and by waiting until age 70 to collect. For men, a similar scenario would result in an 82% bump.

“Women stand to benefit most from working longer, because they tend to have more zeroes in their earnings records,” said Rutledge to CNBC. On average women spend 29 years in the workforce, compared with 38 years for men. The difference? Women take an average of five-and-a-half years away from work to care for children and another 1.2 years to care for an older adult.

Should You Wait to Collect?
Even if you don’t have a zero-income year, waiting to collect can pay off. Of course, delaying won’t be the right choice for everyone, and a number of factors must be considered before making any decisions, including:
• Current cash needs
• Health and family longevity (how long you expect to live)
• Other sources of retirement income
• Work plans during retirement
• Future financial obligations
• Potential Social Security benefit amounts

The Bottom Line
To know where you stand, get a copy of your Social Security statement to review estimates of your future retirement benefits, your earnings to verify the amounts on record and an estimate of the Social Security and Medicare taxes you’ve paid. The statement lists your earnings by year, so you’ll be able to count the number of years you have on record to help you determine if spending an extra year or two in the workforce would boost your Social Security benefits during retirement. Pay particular attention to how many zero-income years you have, if any.

Keep in mind, though, that you may have access to benefits based on your spouse’s (or ex-spouse’s) earnings record – which could be larger than you would be entitled to even if you worked those couple of extra years.