This post was written by financial planner Daniel Zajac.
The decision to start or delay Social Security is a big one, one that may materially impact retirement success or failure. Because it is so important to retirement success, it bothers me when I hear soon-to-be retirees say they are going to take Social Security benefits early. It also bothers me when they take Social Security benefits at full retirement age without considering the alternatives.
Perplexed? Stay with me.
I know what you’re thinking: “Why wouldn’t a financial advisor be okay with someone taking Social Security benefits at full retirement age?”
It’s not that I’m never okay with starting Social Security early or at full retirement age, I’d just want to make sure they take their benefits for the right reasons and do the right research into all the available options. When it comes to Social Security benefits, there’s a lot of money to be left on the table if you don’t know what you’re doing (or if you decide to collect at any age, “just because”).
Plan A: Wait Until Age 70 to Collect Social Security Benefits
The Social Security Administration explains that full retirement age “is the age at which a person may first become entitled to full or unreduced retirement benefits.”
(Specifically, your full retirement age depends on your birth year. Someone born in 1940 has a full retirement age of 65 and 6 months. Someone born in 1960 has a full retirement age of 67. Waiting until age 70 to collect Social Security benefits shouldn’t feel like that long of a wait.)
Unfortunately, a little digging is required to realize that even if you take full benefits at your full retirement age, you won’t get the maximum Social Security available per month. The maximum benefit is reached at age 70.
So why wait until age 70 if you can start earlier in the first place? You’ll get an 8% increase in your benefits per year. For example, let’s assume your full retirement age is 66 and you are to receive $2,000 per month. If you wait until age 67 to collect (1 year), you will receive $2,160 per month, 8% more.
Now, when is the last time you heard of an 8% rate of return? That’s difficult to find. Better yet, it’s government backed. If you think you’re going to live a long time and you don’t need the money right now, “Plan A” may be the right plan for you.
But the 8% isn’t the only reason:
- Get paid a higher amount for life. Generally speaking, people are living longer. The longer people live, the more years they spend in retirement and the greater the chance of running out of money. Optimizing Social Security to produce the highest monthly income could be a prudent, cost of living adjusted hedge against living too long.
- You can take a spousal benefit. Spouses have more options for collecting Social Security. If you are married, you can optimize your total income from Social Security by strategically taking a restricted spousal benefit and waiting until age 70 to collect your own benefit.
If you can afford it, waiting until you reach age 70 may be your best option to receive Social Security benefits – your benefits will max out at that age.
Plan B: Take Social Security Benefits at Your Full Retirement Age
Many people go with “Plan B.” They choose to because they don’t want to wait any longer. They have paid into the system for many years and want to start collecting what is due to them. However, by starting at full retirement age, they’re losing out on all the benefits I mentioned above. Even still, there are reasons to take Social Security benefits at your full retirement age.
If you’re at full retirement age, are strapped for cash, don’t have any other potential income sources, and are unhealthy, it may be reasonable to start your benefits.
However, before you start collecting at your full retirement age, I advise you to consider the alternatives. Consider funding your retirement expenses through your savings while deferring Social Security. Or, if you’re able, work a few years longer. Retirement doesn’t have to occur at a certain age. Many choose to work well beyond their full retirement age. There may be many potential benefits that come with work, including continued socialization and better health – in some occupations.
For those who plan to work and collect Social Security, your full retirement age is the age at which you can collect your benefit and not receive a reduction for earned income. Prior to your full retirement age, you may receive a reduction in your benefit if you collect Social Security and work (you can make up to $15,720 per year in 2015 prior to your full retirement age and not receive a reduction of income).
Before you apply for benefits, use the Social Security Retirement Estimator to get a feel for how much you’ll receive.
Plan C: Take Social Security Benefits Before Your Full Retirement Age
When you take Social Security benefits before your full retirement age, your monthly benefit will be reduced. For example, if your full retirement age is 66 – at which you’d receive $1,000 per month – and you choose to start receiving benefits at age 62, your monthly benefit will be reduced by 25% to $750 per month.
That’s quite a drop in benefits. I love Social Security, but I wouldn’t choose this plan without good reason.
Are there times when it would be reasonable to go with this plan? Of course. For example, you might be working in a job that is physically demanding and bad for your health. In this case, it might be more reasonable to quit your job and take Social Security benefits than to suffer a possible heart attack from overexertion.
Which Plan is Right for You?
This is by no means a complete list of the available options to you as a retiree. It is, however, a quick review of several advantages and disadvantages of oft chosen plans. As you progress through your 60s, it will become more clear which plan is right for you. However, the ultimate clarity can be derived via a detailed analysis of your total financial plan including other income, assets, and taxes.
Consider seeking the help of a financial advisor if you’re having trouble sorting through your options. Make sure your family is on board with your decisions. Seek wise counsel before you decide to retire. With a little help from those around you, you can find the confidence you need to make the right decision.
None of the information in this document should be considered as tax advice. You should consult your tax advisor for information concerning your individual situation.
Daniel Zajac, CFP®, AIF®, CLU®, is a Partner and Financial Advisor with Simone Zajac Wealth Management Group based in the Philadelphia, PA area. As a 33-year-old veteran of the financial planning industry, Daniel loves to share his financial expertise with the masses at FinanceandFlipFlops.com. There, he explores the ins and outs of topics such as life insurance, investing, retirement planning, and much more.
Advisory services offered through Capital Analysts or Lincoln Investment, Registered Investment Advisors. Securities offered through Lincoln Investment, Broker Dealer, Member FINRA/SIPC www.lincolninvestment.com
Simone Zajac Wealth Management Group, and the above firms are independent, non-affiliated entities.
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