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5 Most Common Questions about Social Security Retirement Benefits

More people die coming down Mt. Everest than going up. According to Scientific American, on the way up, climbers are focused and energized because they want to reach their goal. On the way down, they are more prone to mistakes and accidents because they’re more tired and less motivated.

I see a direct parallel here with retirement planning.

The planning industry is based on saving and investing to build a nest egg for retirement – the “climb up the mountain”, so to speak.

The problem is that there is very little focus on the climb down the mountain – ie: the things that happen once you reach that goal and actually want to retire.

Understanding social security benefits is vital for planning for retirement and your “climb down the mountain”. However, many people find social security benefits complex and confusing. It doesn’t have to be this way. You should have everything you need to feel confident in taking advantage of social security benefits in your retirement planning.

Below, I have answered the top 5 most common social security benfits questions we receive.

Discuss these questions with your wealth advisor as you prepare for and execute your retirement plan.

5 Common Social Security Questions

Who is eligible for Social Security retirement benefits?

You need 40 “work credits” to qualify for retirement benefits. Think of work credits as a calendar quarter of work. 40 calendar quarters, or 40 work credits, would be ten years of work.

The amount you must earn to get a credit has changed over the years. In 2019, you need to earn $5,440 for the whole year to earn four credits. In 1978, you had to earn $200 to get four credits.

Spouses may be eligible for benefits even if they have never worked or if you are divorced (if the marriage lasted then years or longer). Children are also eligible for benefits if they meet certain criteria.

How is my retirement benefit amount determined?

Two primary factors determine your benefit. The amount you earned during your lifetime (lifetime earnings) and the age at which you decide to retire and draw benefits.

Your benefit is based on the average of your highest 35 years of earnings.  If you work less than 35 years, the Social Security Administration will use a zero for each year without earnings.

At what age can I claim Social Security?

The age at which you start taking benefits can have a significant effect on the amount your lifetime benefit. There are three situations to understand:

  1. Full retirement age– the date at which you can start to receive your full retirement benefit. This is between ages 66 and 67, depending on when you were born.

  2. Early retirement age– starts at age 62 and goes until you reach full retirement age. Start in this window and your benefits are substantially and permanently reduced.

  3. Delayed retirement age– starts any time after full retirement age up until age 70. If you delay retirement benefits until after your full retirement age, your benefit increases 8% per year.

At what age should I claim Social Security?

This is easy to answer if you know exactly how long you will live. That’s what makes it so tricky.

According to data from the Social Security Administration, a woman turning 65 today can expect to live to almost 87 (84 for men). An upper-middle-class couple age 65 today has a 43 percent chance that one or both will survive to at least age 95, according to the Society of Actuaries.

If you can afford to delay claiming, carefully consider the benefits of delaying and the costs of claiming early. Make sure you plan not only for your lifetime but your spouse’s as well. And most importantly, try not to focus on what happens by delaying filing and dying early. Instead, focus on the possibility you and your spouse might live a long time and ensure you have the right strategy in place.

Just remember, the age at which you start drawing your monthly benefit sets in stone the amount you will receive for the rest of life. This makes how long you are going to live a huge factor in calculating your lifetime benefit.

Will Social Security still be there when I retire?

Let’s start with how Social Security is funded. Employers and employees each pay 6.2% of wages, up to an annual limit, to fund the program. These taxes and other income are deposited into the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund and benefits are paid from the trust.

More workers and fewer beneficiaries help make the program more financially stable. According to the Social Security Administration, there were 16.5 workers for every Social Security recipient in 1950, but only 2.8 workers per recipient in 2013.

Because of this imbalance, the OASI Trust Fund now pays out more than it brings in. According to the 2019 Annual Report to the Social Security Board of Trustees, the OASI Trust Fund will be out of money in 2034 if no changes are made to the program.

This does not mean the program will be bankrupt and unable to pay any benefits, but it does mean the program would only be to pay based on the amount of taxes and income received in any given year. For planning purposes, it is probably smart to assume that you will only receive 70% of your scheduled future payments after 2034.

Get Your Fair Share

Getting sound advice on the ideal Social Security filing strategy can mean a significant difference financially.

This is best accomplished with optimization software to analyze your scenarios, compare options, and determine your ideal filing age.

Make sure you get the maximum benefit based on your situation. This will allow you to rely less on your investments to keep up with spending needs and will help you make sure you are getting your fair share.

To speak with someone about your unique financial situation, click here to schedule a call or call (315) 472-7045.

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