Jimmy J. Williams, CPA/PFS, CFP®
Lifetime Decisions on Social Security Benefits
Perhaps one of the “Top 10” retirement questions we receive is when to elect social security benefits. The question is one that is complicated to answer due to the fact that many unknown variables exist within this question. Just a few considerations are: 1) How long will I live? 2) How can I maximize my benefits? 3) What is the best strategy to gain the most household benefits?
Let’s tackle the first question since it is preeminent to the prediction of mortality. The answer to the question of “How long will I live?” requires greater analysis than a simple number presented as the target date. What age were your parents and grandparents at their deaths? Do you have any comorbidities or systemic health issues? What are your current cash flow needs? Are you married? Widowed? Do you have a dependent child that has been diagnosed special needs? All of these factors, and many more, give rise to a greater amount of analysis to properly estimate your date of filing for benefits.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, in a study published in 2019, men enjoy a life expectancy, at birth, of 75.1 years and women 80.5 years. Of course, these are averages and many of us will live to 100 years of age and beyond. Curiously, the projected ages for men and women declined in the past year by approximately 0.9 to 1.2 years. Was this due to the effects of the pandemic or is this a normal fluctuation of the population cycle?
The most important election many of us will make that has a lifetime impact is the election to receive social security benefits. Much confusion exists around the timing of this election. We highly recommend that each client examine their needs, lifestyle and circumstances when determining the filing date for benefits. For example, if your lifetime savings is not projected to meet your cash flow needs due to the lower returns from the current market cycle, you may wish to analyze the lifetime loss of SSA benefits by electing earlier than your Full Retirement Age (FRA). It is not ideal to make lifetime decisions based on short-term needs. For an individual who is age 62 and would reach FRA at age 67, if benefits are elected at any time from age 62 to 66 years and 364 days (provided it is not leap year), his or her benefits will be reduced permanently by 30%. Depending on your lifetime earnings report, this may be a significant loss of benefit.
Lastly, the best strategy for your household is to determine the ages of each spouse and then review the earnings reports for each by obtaining them on www.ssa.gov . If the higher earned benefit spouse were to delay benefits until reaching age 70, instead of claiming at age 67, a 24% increase in monthly benefits would be availed to the surviving spouse upon the death of the higher earner. The bonus earned by the higher-earning spouse is material in the fact that many spouses may live to be 90 years of age or more which allows significant time for the collection of the bonus payments. Upon the death of the higher benefit spouse, the survivor would “step in the shoes” of the deceased and receive their benefit (while forgoing the survivor’s original earned benefit).
It is critical that you make the best decision for your family. A proper analysis of the hundreds of options of benefit elections is necessary to give you confidence in this lifetime decision. If you wish to plan appropriately for your SSA benefits, contact a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional to assist you in this important lifetime decision.
Today is another 24-hour period for you to find gratitude and happiness. Spread your smiles to those around you and you will reap what you sow. I have a saying that may be appropriate – “If smiles were contagious, would you start a pandemic?” See you on the walking trail!
Registered Principal, Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a Broker/Dealer, Member FINRA/SIPC. Jimmy J. Williams is an Investment Advisor Representative of Compass Capital Management, LLC, a Registered Investment Advisor. Cambridge and Compass Capital Management, LLC are not affiliated. 321 S. 3rd, Ste. 4, McAlester, OK 74501.