Retiring Women: How to Navigate Your Social Security Elections
We’ve all heard the advice that it’s better to delay Social Security for as long as you can. But for retiring women, the equation can be a bit more complicated.
Here are the basics and how you can get started in navigating your Social Security choices.
Name those benefits
When it comes to Social Security, you might have the ability you receive benefit income in one of three ways:
- Spousal benefits, in which your Social Security income is determined based on the record of a current or former spouse (specific rules apply in cases of divorce)
- Survivors benefits, in which your Social Security income is determined by your deceased spouse’s record
- Individual benefits, in which your own income record is used to calculate benefits
For many Baby Boomer women, determining the most advantageous option might require some strategizing. In some cases, it can also require some adapting: for both spousal and survivor benefits, your own benefits will be affected by your ex’s selections and/or whether your deceased spouse had already started taking benefits before death.
In other words, it can get complicated in a hurry.
First action item: Determine what you can get in either case – and when
If you’re eligible for spousal benefits, it can help to map out what you are eligible to receive depending on whether and when your current or ex-spouse starts receiving benefits. For some divorced couples, coordination of benefits comes easily – for others, you might be resigned to basing your decisions on your ex’s actions.
If you’re a survivor, you’ll likely have a good idea of whether your spouse already received Social Security income. If not, you may be able to get more income if you wait to file for survivors benefits.
Finally, look at your own benefits options. Generally speaking, you can receive higher benefits as a result of waiting. Run the numbers and get them all down on paper.
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Considerations in finding the right strategy
This part is arguably the most complicated. The Social Security system is governed by a labyrinthine rule-book that even specialists can get lost in. But there are a few key considerations and rules you might want to keep in mind.
Consider your eligibility. In cases of divorce, there are rules governing eligibility in terms of how long you were married and whether you’ve since remarried. Get a sense of whether you’re in bounds before considering an ex-spouse’s record.
Think about what you can take now and what you can delay. Generally speaking, delaying benefits raises them, which means higher monthly income. If you’re eligible for more than one type of benefit, you may have the ability to receive Social Security income under one account while delaying another to maximize income later.
Remember to account for work and other income sources. If you’re still working or taking income from multiple sources, they may impact your tax liability. Don’t forget to take this into account when planning out your income.
Avoid filing for multiple benefits at the same time. Whether you’ve mapped out a complicated strategy or simply decided to take one source of income until you get your arms around the subject, make sure you haven’t inadvertently filed for multiple benefits simultaneously. Doing so will prevent you from capitalizing on any growth in income due to delaying, which can lower your lifetime income from Social Security.
If you’re married, plan Social Security alongside your spouse. We recommend working together to come up with a plan that can help you meet your current needs and maximize your lifetime income.
Finally, make decisions that can serve your interests over time. While delaying can increase your income, it’s not always the best decision – especially if Social Security income today will provide a significant improvement to your life. In other situations, delaying is far and away the more preferable option. To know what’s right for you, consider your overall financial position, your asset base, lifestyle needs, and considerations like health and work.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Qualified help can be invaluable in helping you weigh your options and find the right strategy. The Social Security Administration offers a good start: you can find your local office or contact their main exchange at 1 (800) 772-1213.
Automated tools, like software, can also help you run the numbers. There are numerous options online and via purchase that might be useful.
Of course, as you might imagine, we believe in the power of personal advice and service – working with a qualified advisor can provide you with both a sounding board and professional help as you navigate the process. This can be especially useful if you’re considering Social Security elections as part of building an overall retirement income plan.
In any situation, it’s important to remember that your situation might be unique: while “rules of thumb” can be useful in general, make sure to consider the financial and personal factors that can affect your decision, and act accordingly.
Are you wondering about Medicare, too?
Navigating benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare can feel like an advanced education. There are many decisions to make and any number of rules and principles to take into account!
If you’ve been worried about Medicare, we recommend downloading our free Medicare guide, Medicare Basics. This brief, information-packed guidebook can help you get your bearings as you learn about the Medicare system and the many choices you might be making.
Download Medicare Basics and get started today!
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