Here at AgingOptions a great number of the retirement-related questions we get involve Social Security benefits. It’s surprising how much misinformation there is about this program that touches so many millions of lives. That’s why we’re always on the lookout for articles that help people better understand this vital government-run system of benefits.
Here’s one recent example of a helpful article from the popular financial website Motley Fool. Most people approaching retirement age know that the longer you wait to start claiming Social Security benefits, the more monthly benefit you get – but just how much more still seems to confuse people. In plain-spoken language the Motley Fool article explains how waiting to file for benefits will have a dramatic life-long impact, not only on you but your spouse as well. Yet in spite of the demonstrated benefits of delay, the actual number of seniors who maximize benefits by waiting as long as possible to file is shockingly low.
First let’s consider a few basics. As far as the Social Security Administration is concerned, your “full retirement age” is determined by your birth year: if you were born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is 66. (For those born later, this handy chart on the Social Security website shows how full retirement age is gradually increasing.) The earliest date when a person can claim Social Security benefits is 62. So if that’s the case, many people argue, why wait? Why not take the benefits at the earliest possible date?
The answer lies in the way Social Security incentivizes people to delay. For every year between age 62 and 70 that you hold off taking benefits, those benefits increase by about 8 percent. That means waiting the extra eight years from 62 to 70 boosts your benefits by more than 75 percent, for the rest of your life. If you are survived by a spouse who is relying on your benefits, their lifetime payout will probably be increased as well. So if waiting is such a great idea, most people put off taking benefits, right? Definitely not.
According to Motley Fool, quoting research from Boston College, “a vast majority of (seniors) wind up taking benefits before they hit their full retirement age.” This translates into about 60 percent of seniors who sign up for Social Security benefits between ages 62 and 64. Another third or so tend to enroll at or near their full retirement age. This means that only 10 percent of all seniors are waiting to file for benefits after their full retirement age. And how many manage to max out their benefits by holding off until age 70? The answer is surprising, to say the least: only 3 percent!
Experts do acknowledge that there are times when taking early benefits may be necessary. If you’re in ill health, for example, with a limited life expectancy, taking benefits early on may be better that waiting too long for benefits you’ll never see. And for those left unemployed and facing economic crisis from the recent recession, Social Security benefits can provide an economic lifeline. But claiming early benefits just because you want a little more cash in your budget is shortsighted, and you’ll almost certainly come to regret it. Once you lock in those lower benefits, you’re pretty much stuck.
There’s another reason to delay benefits: protecting yourself against future benefit cuts. Lurking behind the advice to wait, there’s an ominous warning implied in the Motley Fool analysis. “The reality is Social Security isn’t in good shape,” says the article, “and the program that seniors rely on is nearing a point where its foundation will begin cracking.” The article explains that by the year 2020 “Social Security’s Trust will begin paying out more cash than it’s bringing in…culminating in the program’s extra cash being completely exhausted by 2034.” Assuming Congress does nothing to stop the bleeding and shore up the program, Social Security Trustees “estimate that an across-the-board benefits cut of up to 21 percent may be needed to sustain payouts to the year 2090.” Social Security was designed to provide beneficiaries with 40 percent of their retirement income, but for a huge number of retirees (including 43 percent of singles) the program provides 90 percent of their income. “With so many seniors reliant on Social Security,” the Motley Fool notes, “a 21 percent haircut would be a major problem.” But the larger your monthly check, the less painful it would be.
There’s much more to the issue of how to maximize Social Security benefits, and we encourage you to seek out good sound guidance for your specific situation. Contact us here at AgingOptions and we will gladly advise you. But remember, planning for your financial future is only one facet of preparing for retirement. At AgingOptions, we employ a unique and comprehensive approach called LifePlanning that “connects the dots” like no retirement plan we know of, blending your financial plan with medical, legal and housing strategies in a seamless, well-crafted whole. Your LifePlan also brings your loved ones into the picture, since it’s essential that those closest to you agree with and support your wishes as you age.
If you’re tired of piecemeal retirement planning and curious about this comprehensive method of preparing for a fruitful and secure future, we invite you to attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. These popular events take place at locations throughout the region, and we welcome you to bring your questions and come join us. You’ll be very glad you did! For dates, times, locations and online registration, simply click here – or contact us by phone during the week. We’ll look forward to meeting you.
It may be a good idea to delay taking Social Security – but it’s never a good idea to delay planning for your retirement. Let AgingOptions be your guide. Age on!
(originally reported at https://www.fool.com)