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Social Security: When Should You Claim Your Monthly Check?


From Citi Personal Wealth Management

 

Just because you're no longer in the work force doesn't mean you should immediately claim Social Security. Yet many retirees do just that–and they may end up shortchanging themselves. You are eligible to receive your full benefit when you attain your full retirement age (generally age 66 or 67, depending on when you were born). If you decide to start taking Social Security before you reach your full retirement age, your monthly benefit is reduced. Likewise, if you start your Social Security benefit after your full retirement age, your monthly benefit is increased to take into account the delay in payments. This means the longer you delay claiming Social Security, the larger your monthly benefit will be. Keep in mind there are no benefit increases after you reach age 70. A smart decision? Maybe, let's take a look at some scenarios to see how delaying can benefit some people.

Filing for one

Figuring out when to claim Social Security is fairly straightforward if you are single. You can claim benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70.

If you begin taking your benefit at age 62, it will be approximately 75 percent of what your full benefit would have been at your full retirement age (generally, 66 or 67, depending on when you were born). Your full benefit is reduced by about one-half of 1 percent for each month you start your Social Security before your full retirement age. If, however, you wait to begin collecting your benefit until after you reach your full retirement age, your benefit is increased. The amount of increase depends on the number of months you delay, and it could be as much as 8 percent per year. It is important to note that there are no benefit increases after you reach age 70. If you work and begin receiving benefits early, your Social Security benefit will be reduced if you exceed the annual limit on earnings. There is no reduction in benefits for amounts you earn after you reach your full retirement age.

Other factors to consider include your health and personal savings. Keep in mind that if you delay Social Security until your full retirement age or later but die early, you will have received benefits for a shorter period of time than if you had started them before your full retirement age. But, if you live into your 80s, it could be a smart decision because you will collect a larger monthly check for a number of years that will compensate for those initial years when you didn't receive benefits. For additional information on this and other aspects of Social Security, go to www.ssa.gov.

Married: Weighing the rules

What if you are married? Suddenly, the choice gets more complicated. As you and your spouse weigh when to claim benefits, you may want to consider four additional rules.

  • You can receive benefits based on your own earnings record or you can receive a spousal benefit based on your husband or wife's earnings record. The spousal benefit can be as much as 50 percent of the other spouse's benefit as of full retirement age. Full retirement age, as defined by Social Security, is generally age 66 to 67, depending on the year you were born. For spouses with relatively modest lifetime earnings, the spousal benefit may be worth more than the benefit they qualify for based on their own earnings record.
  • For your spouse to receive benefits based on your earnings record, you must first claim benefits. But even if you claim benefits, your husband or wife doesn't necessarily have to claim Social Security right away.
  • If your husband or wife delays taking Social Security, that will increase his or her spousal benefit–up to a point. Your husband or wife could increase his or her spousal benefit by delaying benefits from 62 until full retirement age, which is generally age 66 to 67, depending on the year your spouse was born. But if your spouse waits until after full retirement age to claim spousal benefits, his or her monthly check won’t increase any further, except for any adjustments for inflation.
  • If you were the family's main breadwinner and you delay benefits–including delaying beyond your full retirement age–you will increase not only your own benefit, but also the survivor benefit that your husband or wife may receive, assuming you predecease him or her.

Married: Making the choice

What are the implications of all this? If you and your spouse are both in poor health or family history suggests longevity isn't on your side, you may both want to claim Social Security earlier. You might also want to claim benefits early if you have children under the age of 19 because you may also be able to claim family benefits. The rules are different if you have one or more disabled children, so you should review them when deciding when to begin your benefit. To learn more about family benefits, go to www.ssa.gov.

But if you don't have children under the age of 19 (or a disabled child) and there is a reasonable chance that you or your spouse could live into your 80s, the decision gets trickier. One possible strategy: the spouse with lower lifetime earnings might claim benefits at 62 based on his or her own earnings record, while the higher-earning spouse postpones benefits.

Why postpone benefits if you were the higher–earning spouse? If you delay, you will boost both your benefit and also the survivor benefit that is potentially payable to your spouse should you die before him or her.

Problem is, if you don't claim benefits, your spouse may be able to get benefits based on his or her own earnings record–but your husband or wife won't get spousal benefits, which could be even more valuable. Keep in mind that, because of the survivor benefit, it may make sense for you to delay benefits, even if your health isn't good. In effect, if you are married and you were the family's main breadwinner, your Social Security benefit could live on after your death–and you may want to postpone benefits for the sake of your spouse.

Your Next Steps

Deciding when to begin your Social Security benefits is complicated and you need to take into consideration a number of things, including but not limited to your financial situation, your health and that of your spouse, and what you plan to do during your retirement years. You can find more information about Social Security benefits by visiting the Social Security website at www.ssa.gov.

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This information is made available for general guidance only. The information contained herein is not intended to be a comprehensive discussion of legal or tax advice of the strategies or concepts described herein. Interested clients should consult their tax and/or legal advisors. This document contains a summary of rules and planning techniques that are complex and subject to change. Although information in this document has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, Citigroup and its affiliates do not guarantee their accuracy or completeness and accept no liability for any direct or consequential losses arising from their use. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice.

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