There tends to be an awful lot of advice flying around regarding when you should claim Social Security. The most common answer that I hear from other advisers is that you should wait until age 70. That’s not always the case. So here are the five factors that help determine when YOU should claim Social Security.
First, let’s address a common concern I hear from clients, which is “I want to claim it now because they might be broke in the future!” Well, there’s good news and bad news about that. The last major study said that the Social Security trust fund would run out of money by 2033. That projection was based on an assumed rate of return on trust fund assets (short-term Treasuries) of 5.6%. The current rate of return is closer to 2.5%. This means that the trust fund would run out (unless we raise the debt ceiling) closer to 2022!
That’s the bad news. The good news (if you want to call it that) is that the government has a special weapon called “unlimited taxing authority.” This allows legislators to just raise taxes to keep Social Security going, and of course they will use it if needed, because they all want to get re-elected! So, I’m not too worried about the ability of the government to pay out to Social Security beneficiaries, but I am sort of worried about how my kids and grandkids will pay for it in the future.
OK, let’s get to what factors help you decide when YOU should claim it:
1. Your health.
This is the most obvious factor. In general, the longer you expect to live, the longer you should wait to claim your benefits. The break-even age (the age when you would receive the same total dollar amount whether you claimed benefits earlier or later) for those choosing between claiming at age 62 or 66 is between ages 78/79. The break-even age for those choosing between claiming at age 66 or 70 is between ages 82/83. Every year after that you would get more money, overall, by waiting to claim.
This is the TECHNICALLY correct answer, mathematically. That’s NOT to say that if you think you are going to live a long time you should necessarily wait until age 70. There are many other reasons to claim Social Security earlier.
I find that many retirees would prefer to have the money earlier, at say age 66, because they feel they won’t be as active or travel as much later on, at age 82 or 83. Therefore, to them personally, the money means more to them now than in 15 to 20 years.
2. Your current savings.
A major factor to consider about when you should claim benefits is the amount of money you have saved for retirement. The more you have saved, the longer you can afford to wait. Why wait? Because every year after your full retirement age until age 70 that you don’t claim benefits, your benefit amount increases by 8%! A guaranteed 8% is more than you’re going to get on your investments, so take advantage of it. Conversely, if you haven’t saved a lot then you may NEED to take money earlier even if you expect to live a long time.
3. Your spouse’s Social Security benefits.
What your spouse expects to receive may help determine both when and HOW you should claim your Social Security benefits. This includes ex-spouses, if married for 10 or more years.
4. Your lifestyle, both now and in the expected future.
What’s more important to you, getting a higher total benefit by waiting as long as possible, or having use of the lesser benefit now when you can enjoy it more? Again, even if you expect to live a long time, you may not care as much about having significantly more income at age 85 than you do at 66. If you plan to travel, for example, then taking the money today may enhance your retirement experience more than it would if you took it at an age when you may not physically be able to do all of the things you can today.
5. Your spouse’s future needs.
Though you may not expect to live a long time, you need to consider whether your spouse might. This is particularly important if your separate benefit amounts are dramatically different. Once you die, your spouse gets the higher of the two benefit amounts – either yours or theirs, NOT BOTH. If you want to maximize the benefit to them (assuming you don’t have much life insurance) then you may want to consider waiting to improve their income for the remainder of their life.
As you can see, here are five considerations that only surround WHEN to claim. They don’t take into consideration HOW to claim. This isn’t a matter to take lightly. It’s best to read all you can on the subject and consider seeking professional advice on the matter, because you don’t want to make the wrong choice.