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“Choosing when to file for benefits is a critical decision that will affect your monthly retirement income for the rest of your life.”

When it comes to planning for retirement finances, one of the most important decisions concerns when to claim Social Security benefits. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the ideal time, but there are some key facts to consider, according to Daily Journal Online’s recent article titled “Are You Ready for Social Security? 3 Questions to Answer Before Claiming Benefits“.

First, how much do you have in retirement savings? Unless you have a healthy pension or another source of income, chances are you’ll rely on Social Security benefits plus your personal savings to cover costs during retirement. How much you have saved will definitely impact when you file.

Remember, the earlier you claim benefits, the smaller your monthly checks will be. If you start your benefits as early as possible, at age 62, monthly payments will be reduced by up to 30%. Wait until age 70, and your monthly benefits could be up to 32% more each month, in addition to the full benefit amount.

If you expect Social Security benefits to make up the bulk of your retirement income, it’s best to delay taking those benefits as long as you possibly can. If you have more than enough retirement savings, you can take your checks at any time.

How long do you expect to work? You don’t have to retire to claim benefits, but usually that is what happens. When you take benefits, may depend upon when you retire. Be realistic about your retirement date. Almost 40% of people left their jobs earlier than planned, according to a study by the Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement. A third retired because of health issues, and more than a quarter retired because they were laid off.

If your retirement plan depends upon being able to work until age 70 to max out those Social Security benefits, then you need a backup plan in case you have to retire early. If you were thinking of retiring in your early 60s, see if you will be able to survive on a smaller monthly benefit if you claim earlier than your full retirement age.

What’s your spouse’s plan? If both you and your spouse are entitled to Social Security benefits, it makes sense to put a strategy in place. You may both retire and claim at the same time, or one may claim before the other. A common strategy is for the lower earning spouse to claim benefits early, while the higher earning spouse waits a few years. That way, you have a little extra income early in retirement, but the higher-earning spouse’s delay results in larger benefits later.

Life expectancy has to be considered also. Sad, but a fact of this stage of life: one of you will die before the other. When one spouse dies, the survivor can receive 100% of their Social Security benefit amount in survivors’ benefits. If the higher earning spouse can continue to work, the survivor will receive a larger monthly benefit when the first spouse passes.

Take some time to consider all of these elements when making a plan for Social Security benefits for retirement. While you’re planning, don’t neglect your estate plan. You need to have a Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, HIPAA Release form and perhaps a Revocable Living Trust. An estate planning attorney can help create all of these documents to suit your unique situation.

Reference: Daily Journal Online (Dec. 23, 2020) “Are You Ready for Social Security? 3 Questions to Answer Before Claiming Benefits

For more information on elder law, retirement planning and estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Mr. Amoruso concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Comprehensive Estate Planning, Asset Preservation, Estate Administration and Guardianship.