Social Security Planning – Social Security benefits might not represent a golden parachute if you’re planning to retire big, but it can be a big stack of cash each month of about $2,200 has a present value well over $500,000. Consider all your options carefully to avoid making a costly mistake. Like all government law, it is not a simple piece of legislation.
Since the Social Security Act became law in 1935, hundreds of amendments have added to the complexity. To make the best decision, you must consider health, income before retirement, income during retirement and taxes.
Retirees cannot rely on commonly held beliefs. Don’t assume that simplistic rules such as “Always file for early benefits” or “You need to stop working to receive benefits” are correct. Specific cases break every rule of thumb. And these one-size-fits-all answers leave many retirees failing to maximize the benefits they have earned.
The decision is even more critical for women. For 42% of single women older than 62, Social Security is their sole source of income. Women on average outlive men. Thus planning for retirement is much easier for men, who tend to have more assets and die young. Widows are twice as likely to live under the poverty line as men who have lost their wives. And the poverty rate for elderly single women is 23% compared with just 5% for retired couples.
About three quarters of Americans file for Social Security benefits before their full retirement age. This mistake is statistically most costly when the husband chooses to begin claiming at age 62. In this case, such a mistake would cost the Millers $152,046 in lifetime income.
But before filing, you obviously should be informed about all the options. To begin, you need to know your personal Social Security earnings and the projected benefits for both you and your spouse. You can request an estimate at www.ssa.gov/estimator and then print the results. Or call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213. For a general review of Social Security, start by reading “Retirement Benefits” (Publication No. 05-10035) online.
Social Security planning is crucial for everyone. People with significant assets should carefully consider both the lifetime benefits and tax consequences of Social Security in light of their overall portfolio strategy. For the less well off, Social Security benefits will dictate their retirement lifestyle. Proper planning could well determine what they can afford to eat.