Expert: Social Security Decisions Can Harm Your Retirement

Friday, 11 Oct 2013 10:28 AM

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Making the wrong decision about your Social Security benefits can damage your retirement income, experts say.

Millions of Americans forgo billions of dollars by making mistakes, writes Tim Maurer, a certified financial planner and vice president at the Financial Consulate, in an article for CNBC.

"Do the research or get together with your financial advisor to make sure you're not one of them."

Editor’s Note:
New Video: Obama Plans to Redistribute Seniors’ Wealth

Take the decision on when to collect benefits. You can take full retirement benefits at age 65 if you were born before 1938 and at age 67 if born after 1959, explains Maurer, an adjunct faculty member at Towson University. If your full retirement age (FRA) is 67, you can get 70 percent of full Social Security benefits at age 62.

However, every $2 of earned income over $15,120 (in 2013) equals a $1 reduction in benefits. And the discounted benefit may continue.

When you reach your FRA, you can collect up to $40,080 with no benefit reduction. Benefits over that limit are cut $1 for every $3 earned.

If you don't need the money, you can take benefits as late as age 70, he points out.

Why do that? For a greater rate of return. The return for waiting to take benefits is between 4.9 and 9.3 percent per year, Maurer states.

"Not bad, especially in this whacky market."

In a nutshell, postpone taking your Social Security benefits if you can, he advises. If you're still working, you can increase your benefit and provide a hedge against future inflation and danger of running out of money.

However, if you expect a shorter life expectancy than the average or really need the income now, take benefits as early as possible if you're not penalized for excess income.

Spouses are eligible for benefits even if they've never had an income, sometimes even if they get divorced.

In addition, workers who earned less than their spouses can take their smaller benefit, then receive spousal benefits when the spouse reaches FRA. But calculating the benefits can get complicated, Maurer notes, saying they even financial advisors can make mistakes.

Myths about Social Security are common, agrees Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, president of Charles Schwab Foundation and senior vice president at Charles Schwab & Co.

Many people think they should take benefits as soon as they're eligible or, conversely, that they should wait as long as possible, she writes in a column for Parade. But you'll permanently reduce your benefit if you collect too early.

"Plus, benefits increase by 8 percent for every year you wait to collect between your FRA and age 70. That’s a great return!" she says.

On the other hand, if you're collecting on your spouse's earnings, benefits won't increase after your FRA.

Editor’s Note: New Video: Obama Plans to Redistribute Seniors’ Wealth

Related Stories:

AARP: Older Unemployed Americans Get Double Whammy

LA Times: Half of Americans to Outlive Assets

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