Category Archives: Social Security

7 Tips To Maximize Social Security Benefits From A Former SSA Director

SSA-image-3My Comments: For millions of us, Social Security is our lifeblood. Without the monthly stipend, life as we know it would not happen. Getting your fair share can be a confusing and complicated process.

There is little chance to get it right if you first get it wrong. This demands you pay attention BEFORE you sign up for that monthly check. These 7 points are the best short summary I’ve seen to help you get it right the first time.

by Bernice Napach on September 16, 2016

As many financial advisors know, the devil is in the details when it comes to Social Security. There are many rules to follow — and changes to those rules — in order to maximize benefits. With that in mind, here are some fundamental points that advisors should know, courtesy of a webinar with former Social Security Administration Director Kurt Czarnowski, presented by the Retirement Experts Network.

1. Check the wage history on the Social Security statement

Social Security payments are based on a person’s work history, specifically on the average wage over the 35 highest earning years, adjusted for inflation. A person needs to work 10 years in order to accumulate the necessary 40 Social Security credits for that person or his or her spouse to collect Social Security benefits.

Information about one’s wage history can be found on their Social Security statement, which until two years ago was mailed to most adults annually. Not anymore. Mailings are done only once every five years for those under 60, so clients should set up an account at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount where they can view their statement at any time.

Wage errors can be corrected anytime so long as proper proof is provided, but correcting self-employment income errors is another story. There’s a statute of limitations. Errors need to be corrected no later than three years, three months and 15 days after end of the year in which the self-employment income was earned.

2. Know the full retirement age

Despite conventional references to 65 as the age of retirement, most people who are not yet collecting Social Security today won’t be able to collect full retirement benefits until age 66 or later.

As a result of amendments passed in 1983, the full retirement age (FRA) for those born between 1943 and 1954 is 66; for those born in 1960 or later, it’s 67. The FRA is 66 plus two months for every year from 1955 to 1959.

Clients can, of course, collect Social Security as early as age 62, receiving 75 percent of their full retirement benefit, or as late as age 70, collecting 32 percent more than their full retirement benefit, or at some age in between.

“If you live until the average life expectancy you’re better off waiting to collect Social Security,” said Czarnowski. In the U.S., the average life expectancy is 84.3 years for a 65-year-old man and 86.6 years for a 65-year-old woman. In addition, said Czarnowski, one in three 65-year-olds today will live to be 90 and one in seven will live to be 95. “Good things come for those who wait.”

He suggested using the Retirement Estimator to calculate expected Social Security payments, keeping in mind that the program was only intended to replace about 41 percent of one’s pre-retirement income.

The average Social Security benefit paid this year is $1,341 per month and the maximum paid is $2,639, said Czarnowski.

3. The benefits and costs of working in retirement

Almost 20 percent of Americans 65 and older are working, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a recent Bankrate.com survey found 70 percent of non-retired Americans plan to work as long as possible during retirement.

But doing so can affect Social Security payments for those who are not yet at their full retirement age. If they earn more than $15,720 this year, every $2 above that threshold will reduce benefits by $1. There is no reduction in benefits for those who have already reached their full retirement age.

Earnings, however, are subject to regular FICA taxes, which finance Social Security and income taxes. But if those annual earnings are higher than the lowest earning years included in the 35-year wage history for Social Security purposes, they will be used instead in that calculation. That could potentially increase benefits.

Another benefit of working longer: it could help delay collecting Social Security until age 70, when benefits are 32 percent higher than they are at full retirement age.

“Good things come to those who work,” said Czarnowski.

4. Taxing Social Security benefits

Social Security benefits are subject to income taxes for individuals whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) tops $25,000 and for couples with MAGI above $32,000. More specifically, up to 85 percent of benefits can be taxed as ordinary income.

About half of those collecting Social Security pay income taxes on their benefits, said Czarnowski.

5. Spousal Benefits

A nonworking or even working spouse can collect spousal Social Security benefits so long as that person is 62 years old and his or her spouse, who’s likely the higher earner, has applied for Social Security.

If he or she has reached full retirement age, the benefit will be 50 percent of the higher earner’s benefits. At 62 years, he or she would collect about 35 percent of those benefits. In either case, the person collecting spousal benefits cannot also collect benefits of his or her own.

Spouses no longer have the ability to collect benefits from the husband or wife who has filed and then suspended his or her own benefits due to a change in the law last year, but there is still a grandfather provision to consider. Anyone born before Jan. 1, 1954 and at full retirement age can file what’s known as a restricted application to collect their spousal benefit while waiting until 70 to collect a more remunerative benefit of their own, but their spouse must also be collecting his or her own benefits.

6. Survivor benefits

Survivor benefits, unlike spousal benefits, are 100 percent of what a spouse was collecting when he or she died. The surviving spouse can collect those benefits or collect his or her own benefits, whichever is greatest. They can potentially maximize benefits by first collecting their survivor benefits and then deferring their own until age 70.

7. Divorced spousal benefits

Even divorced spouses can collect spousal benefits so long as the marriage lasted at least 10 years, the divorce was finalized at least two years earlier and the collecting spouse is 62 or older and has not remarried. The benefit is 50 percent for a divorced spouse and 100 percent for a divorced widowed spouse.

5 Tips to Increase Your Social Security Check

SSA-image-3My Comments: It may be too late to make changes, but if signing up for Social Security benefits is still on your horizon, some of this WILL help you. (Are you listening Eric?)

 

By Richard Best | August 16, 2016

When Social Security was introduced in 1935, it was never intended to be a primary income source that could support people in retirement. Rather, its sole purpose was to provide a safety net for people who were unable to accumulate sufficient retirement savings. For the next seven decades, the majority of Americans never gave much thought to their Social Security because of shorter life spans and a reliance on guaranteed pensions. Today, an increasing number of people are starting to pay attention to their benefits, and Social Security planning is becoming a vital element in securing lifetime income sufficiency. Although there are many planning options for receiving Social Security benefits, they can be complex and only apply to certain circumstances. At a minimum, these are some planning tips that everyone should follow in order to increase the size of their Social Security checks.

Work the Full 35 Years

The Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates your final benefit amount based on your lifetime earnings covering your highest 35 years of work history. The SSA totals your earnings of your highest 35 years and averages them by using an average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) formula. If you entered the workforce late, or had periods of unemployment, those years will count as zeroes, which will be included in the formula, bringing down the average. Once you have worked 35 years, each additional year of earnings, will replace an earlier year of lower earnings, which will increase the average.

Max Out Earnings Through Full Retirement Age

The SSA calculates your benefit amount based on your earnings, so that the more you earn, the higher your benefit amount will be. Earnings above the annual cap ($118,500 in 2016 and indexed to inflation each year), are left out of the calculation. Your goal should be to maximize your peak earning years, striving to earn at or above the cap. Some pre-retirees look for ways to increase their income, such as taking on part-time work or generating business income. Unaware of the impact on benefits, some pre-retirees scale back on their work or semi-retire, which can lower their Social Security income.

Delay Benefits

Most people know their full retirement age (FRA) – the Social Security age at which they can receive their full Social Security benefits. For most people retiring today, the FRA age is 66. But very few people know that if they delay their Social Security benefits until after they reach FRA, they can effectively earn an 8% annual return on their available benefits. The benefit amount increases by 8% each year that it is delayed until age 70. That is based on the delayed retirement credits (DRCs) earned for each year that you delay your Social Security benefits.

For example, if you are eligible for a primary insurance amount (PIA) of $2,000, or $24,000, at age 66, then by waiting until age 70, your annual benefit would increase to $31,680. In cumulative terms, you would increase your total benefits from $378,000 received by your life expectancy at age 82 to $411,000.

This example doesn’t account for cost of living adjustments (COLAs). Assuming a 2.5% COLA, your delayed benefit would grow to $38,599 and your total benefit amount would increase to $584,000 by age 82.

Claim Spousal Benefits Early

If you and your spouse are 62 years of age or over, one of you can claim spousal benefits while the other delays benefits until age 70. The spouse receiving spousal benefits can then switch to full benefits after attaining FRA. To be eligible, you must have been married for at least 10 years to your spouse or ex-spouse (whoever is to receive the benefit). This option works best where one spouse earned more money than the other, because the spousal benefit amount is based on half of the full benefit amount of the higher-earning spouse.

Avoid Social Security Tax

If you are planning on supplementing your retirement income by working after you start receiving Social Security benefits, then you need to be aware of the tax consequences. Anywhere from 50 to 85% of benefit payment can be subject to federal taxes. To determine how much of your benefits will be taxed, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will add your nontaxable interest and half of your Social Security income to your adjusted gross income (AGI). If that total amounts to $25,000 to $34,000 for single filers, or $32,000 to $44,000 for joint filers, up to 50% of your Social Security income is subject to tax. When that amount exceeds $34,000 for a single filer or $44,000 for joint filers, up to 85% of your benefits is subject to taxes. You can possibly avoid paying taxes on your Social Security income by considering ways to spread out your income from various sources so as to prevent any increases that could trigger a higher tax.

Social Security: 10 smart ways to get more benefits

My Comments: For most 21st Century Americans who live long enough to retire, a monthly check from the Social Security Administration is at the core of their future financial freedom. This is a state of mind that says we “have enough money coming in to pay our basic bills for shelter, for food, for transportation, and other basic needs”.

And since we live in a society where more money is better than less money, you owe it to yourself to understand how that monthly check is calculated.

Selena Maranjian, The Motley Fool – July 2, 2016

If you want to improve your retirement, look into how you can get more benefits from Social Security — because it’s a significant retirement income generator for most of us. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the majority of elderly beneficiaries get 50% or more of their income from Social Security, while 22% of married elderly beneficiaries and 47% of unmarried ones get fully 90% or more of their income from it.

Here are 10 smart ways to get more benefits from Social Security.

  1. Work for at least 35 years. The formula the SSA uses to compute your benefits is based on your earnings in the 35 years in which you earned the most. If you only earned income in 28 years, the formula will incorporate seven zeros, which will shrink your benefits to some degree. Are you planning to retire after 33 years of work? It might be worth it to work two more years if you want to get more benefits.
  2. Earn more. Since the formula focuses on your 35 highest-earning years, another way to increase your benefits is to beef up your earnings. You may have 35 years of earnings already, but if you’re earning $85,000 now and some of your early years feature incomes of, say, $15,000, you can increase your ultimate benefits by working a little longer so more of your high-income years can be included in the calculations, replacing some low-income years.
  3. Check your record. You can look up the SSA’s record of your income and taxes paid into the Social Security system any time, and see estimates of your future benefits, at the SSA website. It’s worth an occasional visit in order to make sure  your earnings and taxes paid are correct. If they’re not, you might end up receiving smaller benefit checks than you’ve actually earned.
  4. Delay collecting. A simple way to make your Social Security benefits bigger — potentially a lot bigger — is to delay starting to collect them. You can start as early as age 62 and delay up to age 70. Each of us has a “full” retirement age (typically 66 or 67 these days) and for every year beyond that  you delay, your benefits will grow by about 8%. Delay from age 67 to 70, and you’ll get benefits that are 24% bigger.
  5. Start collecting at 62. If you live an average life span, though, you won’t come out ahead much by delaying, because you’ll get fewer checks, in total, than those who started earlier with smaller checks. If you live much longer than average, though, waiting will have been worth it. But if you have reason to believe you will live a shorter-than-average life, or you simply need the money, go ahead and start collecting early.
  6. Collect a spousal benefit. If your spouse has a richer work history than you do, you may be able to collect a “spousal benefit,” based on your spouse’s earnings and not your own. Spouses can collect benefits worth up to 50% of their other half’s benefits. This can be particularly welcome for spouses who never worked or earned very little.
  7. Don’t earn too much if you’re working in retirement. If you’re planning to start collecting benefits before your full retirement age and you want to work some then, too, be careful — because after a certain point, your benefits may be reduced. The SSA explains: “If you’re younger than full retirement age during all of 2016, we must deduct $1 from your benefits for each $2 you earn above $15,720.” The year you reach your full retirement age, the earning limit jumps to $41,880, and the penalty decreases to $1 withheld for every $3 earned above the limit.
  8. Delay your divorce. If you’re divorcing after, say, nine years of marriage, consider staying married until 10 years have passed — if you can. Divorcees may be able to claim benefits based on their ex-spouse’s earnings — even if that ex has remarried — if they were married for at least 10 years. There are a few more rules related to this, so look into them if this might apply to you.
  9. Look into survivor and disability benefits, too. Social Security isn’t just about retirement. There are survivor and disability benefits available, too, as well as retirement benefits for dependents of retirees, in some cases. If your spouse passes away, you may be able to claim survivor benefits — and your children may receive them, too, through age 17. Social Security also offers disability benefits to people of all ages who qualify.
  10. Strategize. There are many more strategies related to Social Security benefits than you may realize. For example, if you’re part of a couple, or if you’ve lost your spouse, look into how much you can collect, and when, on your own record or on your spouse’s, ex-spouse’s, or late spouse’s record. You may be able to collect one early, then switch to another. Don’t be afraid to tap the services of a professional financial advisor, either, as a good one might be able to steer you toward a benefit-maximizing strategy. Favor fee-only financial advisors, whom you can find via referrals from friends or at the website of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

When it comes to Social Security, the more you learn, the more you might collect.

 

 

How the The Social Security Spouse Benefit Works

SSA-image-3My Comments: Our Social Security system is a vital source of income for the vast majority of us who are age 62 and beyond. If you have a qualified earnings history, by the time you reach age 62 you can elect to start receiving a lifetime annuity, one that has a cost of living adjustment every year.

That’s not to say, however, that understanding all the variables and how they interact with each other, is a simple matter. This is a good start to understanding SPOUSAL BENEFITS and how this critical component may apply to you.

By Dana Anspach – July 08, 2016


1. Who is eligible for a spousal benefit

Both current spouses, and ex-spouses if they were married for over ten years and did not remarry prior to age 60, are eligible for a spousal benefit. You must be age 62 to file for or receive a spousal benefit.

You are not eligible to receive a spousal benefit until your spouse files for their own benefit first. Different rules apply for ex-spouses. You can receive a spousal benefit based on an ex-spouse’s record even if your ex has not yet filed for their own benefits.

2. How much can you get

As a spouse, you can claim a Social Security benefit based on your own earnings record, or you can collect a spousal benefit that will provide you 50% of the amount of your spouse’s Social Security benefit as calculated at their full retirement age (FRA). (Each person’s FRA depends on their year of birth.)

If you file before you reach your own FRA, your spousal benefit will first be calculated as 50% of what your spouse would get at their FRA, but then it will be further reduced because you are filing early.

You are automatically entitled to receive the benefit that provides you the higher monthly amount; either a benefit based on your own earnings, or the spousal benefit, and prior to reaching FRA, Social Security makes this determination for you.

If you were born on or before January 1, 1954, after you reach FRA, you can choose to receive only the spousal benefit, and delay receiving your retirement benefits until a later date, allowing you to receive a higher benefit later based on the effect of delayed retirement credits.

Due to new Social Security laws that went into effect Nov.2, 2015, if you were born on or after January 2, 1954 you will not be able to restrict your application and only receive spousal benefits. For anyone born on or after January 2, 1954, when you file you will automatically be deemed to be filing for all benefits you are eligible for.

3. How early retirement affects things

If you collect a spousal benefit, and you begin collecting this benefit before you reach FRA, your benefit will be permanently reduced. To see how this reduction is calculated visit the Benefits For Spouses section of the Social Security website.

If your spouse takes Social Security early, and you take a spousal benefit early, you will be significantly reducing the amount of benefits that may be paid out over your lifetime and will have permanently reduced the survivor benefit that either of you is eligible for.

Married couples can get more in Social Security payments by coordinating how and when they should each begin collecting benefits. You can run these numbers yourself to see how it works by using an advanced Social Security calculator.

4. When you are a widow or widower

If you are a widow or widower you can collect a survivor’s benefit as early as age 60.

Widows and widowers can restrict their application to file for either their own benefit or the widow/widower benefit, and then later switch to the other benefit amount. You might do this if your own benefit amount at age 70 would be larger than your widow benefit. You could claim the widow benefit for several years, and then at 70 switch to your own benefit.

Once you and your spouse are receiving Social Security benefits, upon the death of your spouse, you will continue to receive the larger of your benefit, or your spouse’s, but not both. This means if you have a longer life expectancy, and you are collecting a benefit based on your spouse’s earnings, if your spouse starts taking Social Security early, it will result in a significant reduction in your benefit too, and the reduction will last throughout your life expectancy.

A surviving spouse living in the same household is eligible to receive a one-time lump sum payment of $255 upon the death of their spouse.

When married couples choose to maximize the highest earning spouse’s benefit by having that person delay collecting until age 70, it acts as a powerful form of life insurance. In many cases it provides the equivalent of $50,000 – $250,000 of life insurance benefit.

Overall, married couples in particular, can make better Social Security choices by working together and making decisions that maximize their spousal and survivor benefits. Too many couples overlook this, and end up getting less income.

Understanding Social Security Spousal Benefits

SSA-image-3My Comments: these details were found at a site called WiserWomen.com . They are consistent with my thoughts about how to get the most from the Social Security system as you ask questions to find the optimal timing to apply and possibly suspend your benefits. If you want a personal analysis and comprehensive report, talk with me. Their comments follow this first paragraph.

Social Security is a vital source of retirement income for most women. For this reason, it is important to understand how the spousal benefit works and how it can impact the amount of Social Security income you receive. While this fact sheet is written for women, the information here is the same for men who may want to claim the spousal benefit based on their wife (or ex-wife’s) earning record.

As a spouse, you can claim a Social Security benefit based on your own earnings record, or collect a spousal benefit in the amount of 50% of your husband’s Social Security benefit, but not both. You are automatically entitled to receive whichever benefit provides you the higher monthly amount. In order to qualify for Social Security spousal benefits, you must be at least 62 years old and your husband must also be collecting his own benefits. If your husband is of full retirement age and is not yet collecting benefits, he can apply for retirement benefits and then request to have the benefits suspended and receive delayed retirement credits until age 70. Once he has applied for and suspended his benefits, you would then be able to apply for spousal benefits. Additionally, if you are the higher earner, your husband can apply to collect spousal benefits based on your work record. It is important to note that claiming a spousal benefit does not impact the benefit amount received by the worker whose earning record is being used.

Taking Benefits Early

A full spousal benefit is worth 50% of the non-claiming spouse’s retirement benefit at their full retirement age (known as the “primary insurance amount”, or PIA). It does not matter when the non-claiming spouse actually filed for their own retirement benefit. Therefore, even if your current or former spouse is receiving a reduced benefit as a result of early claiming, your spousal benefit will not be affected. What CAN impact your spousal benefit, however, is if YOU claim the benefit before your own full retirement age. For example, if your full retirement age were 66, then the following reductions to benefits would apply:
• At age 65, you would receive 45.8% of your spouse’s benefit.
• At age 64, you would receive 41.7% of your spouse’s benefit.
• At age 63, you would receive 37.5% of your spouse’s benefit.
• At age 62, you would receive 35% of your spouse’s benefit.
It is also worth noting that unlike delaying your own worker benefit, there is no credit for delaying a spousal benefit beyond full retirement age.

Divorced Spouses
You can receive benefits as a divorced spouse on your ex-husband’s Social Security record, even if he has remarried and his current wife is collecting benefits based on his record. However, there are a few eligibility requirements:
• You must have been married to your ex-husband for at least 10 years.
• You must be at least 62 years old. However, if your ex-husband is deceased and you are currently unmarried, you may collect benefits as early as age 60 as a surviving divorced spouse. If he is deceased and you are disabled, you can collect benefits as early as age 50.
• Your ex-husband must be eligible for benefits. If he is eligible but is not currently receiving benefits, you can still qualify for spousal benefits if you have been divorced for two or more years.
• You must not be currently married. If you remarried and your second husband is deceased, you can claim benefits from either your first or your second husband as long as each marriage lasted at least 10 years.

Surviving Spouses
• If your husband passes away, you can collect survivor’s benefits as early as age 60.
• You are eligible to receive his full Social Security benefit amount if you claim the benefit at your own full retirement age. If you claim before your full retirement age, your benefit will be reduced. (You can learn more about this on the Social Security website by clicking here.)
• If your ex-husband is deceased and you remarry before age 60 (or 50 if you are disabled), you cannot receive survivor’s benefits unless the latter marriage ends (whether it be through death, divorce, or annulment). If you remarry after age 60, you can continue to receive benefits on your former husband’s Social Security record. However, if your current husband is also a Social Security beneficiary and you would receive a larger benefit from his work record than you would from your former husband’s record, you should apply for spousal benefits on your current husband’s record. You cannot receive both benefits.
• Regardless of your age or marital status, if you are caring for your deceased husband’s child or children, you would be eligible to receive benefits for raising them until they are 16 years old. These children can then continue to receive benefits based on your husband’s work record until they are 18 or 19, as long as they are unmarried. If a child is still a full-time student (no higher grade than grade 12) when they turn 18, they can continue to receive benefits until 2 months after they turn 19 or until they graduate, whichever comes first. Children who are disabled can also continue to receive benefits after they turn 18 years old.

Applying for Benefits
You can apply for benefits online by going to http://www.socialsecurity.gov. You can also apply over the telephone by calling 1-800-772-1213, or apply in person by visiting your local Social Security office. For more information on how to apply, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/applying8.htm.

To make the application process easier, you should know your husband’s (or ex-husband’s) date of birth and Social Security number. You may also be asked to provide certain documents as proof of eligibility, such as your birth certificate or other proof of birth, naturalization papers, W-2 forms, a marriage certificate, or divorce papers if you’re applying as a divorced spouse.

Social Security: What to know before claiming benefits

SSA-image-3My Comments: This is pretty basic stuff but for many of you who have yet to seriously think about where the money is going to come from when you retire, this is a must read. I also encourage you to go to the ssa.gov web site and register yourself.

by Diane Archer June 30, 2016

The National Academy of Social Insurance has a new toolkit on Social Security. If you’re thinking about when to claim Social Security benefits, it explains what to know and ask.

When to claim Social Security benefits is an important decision. If you need the benefits in order to meet your daily needs, you should claim them as soon as possible. But, if you can wait to claim them, you will receive higher Social Security income. As it is, on average Social Security replaces only 40 percent of a person’s pre-retirement income.

If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age (FRA) is 66, though you may claim benefits any time between age 62 and 70. If you claim them at 62, you get 25 percent a month less each month for your lifetime than you would if you waited to claim until you are 66. To learn about how claiming benefits early disproportionately hurts people with low incomes, click here.

If your full retirement age (FRA) is 66 and you wait until 70, you get 32 percent more in monthly benefits for your lifetime than you would if you claim benefits at 66. You get 8 percent more for each year you delay claiming benefits after age 66 up to age 70.

Of course many factors go into when you should claim benefits. If you’re in good health and can wait, you will ensure a higher monthly income throughout your life. Moreover, if you’re married and earn more than your spouse, delaying your receipt of benefits, will ensure increased Social Security income for your spouse after you pass. On the other hand, if you’re in poor health, it might be wise to claim benefits early so you are able to get back as much as possible from Social Security.

It’s wise to confirm that Social Security has correct information about your income. You can check online by creating a “my Social Security account” at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/. Once you do that, you will get a Social Security Statement that shows the income information Social Security has on file. Let Social Security know right away if you find a mistake.

What benefits does your spouse get? Because Social Security is insurance designed to protect families, your spouse, even your divorced spouse if you were married at least ten years, is entitled to Social Security benefits based on your income. The spousal benefit amount is half of the amount of your benefit if that amount is larger than what your spouse would receive based on his or her own income. And, after you pass, your surviving spouse or divorced spouse if you were married at least ten years, is entitled to your full Social Security benefits if that is larger than the amount your spouse would otherwise get based on his or her own income.

The NASI toolkit provides questions to ask based on a range of situations in which you might find yourself, including whether you should keep working and claim benefits. To read the toolkit, click here.

Social Security Tips for Couples

My Comments: More ideas about the ongoing saga of when and how to best apply for Social Security benefits.

02/24/2016

There are many benefits to marriage, but one you may not yet have considered is the flexibility married couples enjoy when deciding how and when to claim Social Security. Even though the basic rules apply to everyone, a couple has more options than a single person because each member of a couple can claim at different dates, and may be eligible for spousal benefits.

Making the most of Social Security requires some strategy to take advantage of the basic benefit rules, however. After you reach age 62, for every year you postpone taking Social Security (up to age 70), you could receive up to 8% more in future monthly payments. (Once you reach age 70, increases stop, so there is no benefit to waiting past age 70.) Members of a couple may also have the option of claiming benefits based on their own work record, or 50% of their spouse’s benefit. For couples with big differences in earnings, claiming the spousal benefit may be better than claiming your own.

What’s more, Social Security payments are guaranteed for life and should generally adjust with inflation, thanks to cost-of-living increases. Because people are living longer these days, a higher stream of inflation-protected lifetime income can be very valuable.

But to take advantage of the higher monthly benefits, you may need to accept some short-term sacrifice. In other words, you’ll have less Social Security income in the first few years of retirement in order to get larger benefits later.

“As people live longer, the risk of outliving their savings in retirement is a big concern,” Ann Dowd, a CFP® professional and a vice president at Fidelity. “Maximizing Social Security is a key part of how couples can manage that risk.”

Until recently, many couples had additional options known as “file and suspend” and “claim now, claim more later” that are now being eliminated. Before you choose a strategy, be sure to review those options to see if you qualify.

In the absence of “file and suspend” and “claim now, claim more later” strategies, the big question is how long you expect to live. Deferring means a higher benefit, but it takes time to make up for all the payments you skipped in your 60s and to replace the savings you spent in the meantime. But when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse can claim the higher monthly benefit for the rest of his or her life. So, for a couple with at least one member who expects to live into his or her late 80s or 90s, deferring the higher earner’s benefit may make sense. If both members of a couple have serious health issues, claiming early may make more sense.

How likely are you to live to be 85, 90, or older? The answer may surprise you. Longevity has been steadily increasing, and surveys show that many people underestimate how long they will live. According to the Social Security Administration, a man turning 65 today will live to be 84.3 on average and a woman will live to be 86.6 on average. For a couple at age 65, the chances that one person will survive to age 85 are more than 75%.
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