Q&A: Waiting on Social Security

Dear Liz: I started Social Security at 62 and did the spreadsheet myself showing the break-even point. I would have to be 80 before the graphs even cross.

You, and others, have to stop that business about waiting on Social Security if you can. My own mother lived to 90 and it is about quality of life, not collecting lots from the government.

Answer: Exactly. And since you have longevity in the family, you especially should have paid better attention to the message about the importance of delaying benefits.

If your mother started benefits at 62, or ended up living on a survivor’s benefit from a husband who started early, then her checks were 30% to 50% smaller than they could have been. That difference can be especially crucial in a person’s later years, when she’s far more likely to have outlived her other assets and need the additional money.

Remember that the decision to claim Social Security is separate from the decision to retire. People can retire early and draw from other accounts while putting off Social Security to maximize their checks.

Most people who try to do the math on spreadsheets fail to factor in the effects of inflation and taxes, among other factors.

You can get better calculations from one of the free calculators, such as the ones at AARP and T. Rowe Price. You can find a more robust calculator for about $40 at MaximizeMySocialSecurity.com and SocialSecurityChoices.com.

Another option is to read the recent bestseller published by Simon & Schuster: “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.”

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  1. You’ve convinced me. I retired at 62, but I intend to hold off filing for Social Security as long as I can, preferably age 70. Barring unforeseen events, I have adequate resources to live comfortably to age 70. The increased benefits at age 70 will minimize my future need to withdraw from my savings even though my RMDs may be considerable. The main reason that I have decided to wait is the increase in the survivor benefits. If I only had myself to think about, I might start taking benefits sooner, but I need to make provisions for my wife in the event that I don’t outlive her.

    • Liz Weston says

      Thank you for posting, Bill. You’re echoing what AARP and financial planners have been trying to get across–that we need to consider the surviving spouse when making these decisions. As you probably know, you can file and suspend at your full retirement age (currently 66) so that your wife can get spousal benefits while your benefit continues to grow. Larry Kotlikoff’s book “Get What’s Yours” has all the details.

      • I will consider the file and suspend strategy when I reach full retirement age, but I don’t think that the spousal benefit for my wife will be better than her own benefit. In that case, I’ll just hold off filing.

        • Liz Weston says

          Well, no, it may not be, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t file for it. Having her receive spousal benefits for a few years allows her own benefit to continue to grow. It’s essentially free money. AARP has a great PDF called “Maximizing Your Social Security” that explains the strategy.

      • Conversely, if Bill’s wife has enough credits, she can take her own retirement benefit at 62 or later, and, if the spread in their ages works out, Bill can file a restricted application for spousal benefits only at his full retirement age (no sooner!) and receive 50% of his wife’s full benefit until he is 70.