Deciding when to start SSA retirement

Last week I wrote that there is no one best time for you to start Social Security retirement related benefits. It is a very individual decision, based on your own personal family and financial circumstances. You can retire without starting Social Security retirement. You can start Social Security without fully retiring.

In no particular order, here are a few of many questions for you to consider before deciding when to start your Social Security, or before retiring at all.  Use the SSA retirement planner tools at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/.  

1. What are your retirement plans? Stay home or travel extensively? Can you afford to retire earlier or should you wait and continue building your savings? Social Security retirement benefits are permanently reduced if started when you are younger than full retirement age (FRA). If delayed they continue growing each month until age 70. Do you want a smaller, reduced, amount or do you want to wait for a larger amount?

2. What is your other income? Social Security was never intended to be your primary retirement income. You will need other income. If you have average earnings, under current law your Social Security retirement benefits will replace about 40 percent of your pre-retirement earnings. The percentage is lower for people in the upper income brackets and higher for people with low incomes. Social Security benefits are the foundation for a secure retirement but you will need other income such as savings, pensions or investments. Financial advisors have told me that people need about 70-80 percent of pre-retirement earnings to comfortably maintain a pre-retirement standard of living. Depending on overall income, part of your Social Security might be subject to income tax

 3. Are Social Security benefits through your record payable to family members?  If so, perhaps starting sooner, with a permanent age reduced amount, is a good idea for you so that family members can receive also. Starting retirement at a younger age will reduce your benefits, but amounts paid to others on your record will not reduce your own amount.

4. How long are you going to live? Retirement could last many years. On average, a man reaching age 65 today can expect to live until age 84 and a woman until age 86. About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90 and one out of ten will live past age 95. Are members of your family generally long-lived and healthy or not?  How is your own health? Your answers might lead you to start retirement either sooner or later.

5. Do you expect die before your spouse? Will she or he be eligible for a survivors (widow/widower) benefit on your work record? Delaying your retirement benefits could provide a higher survivors benefit to your surviving spouse, if one is payable. Survivors benefits might be payable even if spousal benefits are not. 

6. Are you eligible for both Social Security retirement and survivors benefits? How much is each? The timing of which benefit to start first can matter. Survivor benefits based on age can begin as early as age 60; your own retirement not before age 62. Starting the survivor benefit first could let your retirement amount grow, up to age 70. Starting retirement first could let the survivors amount grow, up to your survivor full retirement age. Learn your options. Full retirement age (FRA) is different for retirement and survivor benefits.

 7. Will you continue working? Consider the effect of continued employment on your Social Security benefits. You might be able to work and receive all your SSA retirement or expected earnings might prevent payment of at least a portion of your benefits. Once reaching full retirement age (FRA), Social Security benefits are not limited by earnings. Ongoing employment might increase future benefits. 

8. Remember Medicare. Are you approaching age 65? You can enroll in Medicare without receiving Social Security monthly benefits. If not yet receiving Social Security, you must take action to enroll in Medicare.  Enroll in Medicare Hospital Insurance (Part A) about three months before reaching age 65. You can apply online. You may not need Medicare Medical Insurance (Part B) at age 65 if your medical insurance is under a group plan based on your, or your spouse’s, current employment.  Research your needs in advance. General Medicare general information is in “Medicare” SSA publication 05-10043. Coverage details are at www.medicare.gov. .  

9. What does your spouse or partner want?  Perhaps the most important question here. Discuss it together.

When to start receiving Social Security retirement benefits (see SSA publication 05-10147) is an individual decision. You decide what is right for you. Use the SSA retirement planner tools at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/.   

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