Usually this article tries to answer questions asked by readers or during my seminars. Instead, in no particular order, here are a few of many questions for you to consider before deciding when to start your Social Security. You decide what is right for you. Use the SSA retirement planner tools at (www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2). For SSA survivors benefit information go to (www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/survivors.htm).
1. What are your plans? Stay home or travel extensively? Both are fine but they require different incomes. On average, Social Security retirement replaces about 40 percent of pre-retirement earnings. Financial planners tell me that people generally need 70-80 percent of pre-retirement earnings in retirement. Estimate your SSA retirement amount at different ages at (www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/calculators.htm).
2. What is your other income? Social Security was never intended to be your primary retirement income, yet about one-third of seniors rely on it for 90 percent or more of retirement income. Can you afford to retire earlier or should you wait and continue building your savings?
Howard I. Kossover
3. 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 83 and a woman until age 85. About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90 and one out of 10 will live past age 95. Perhaps you planned to retire at 62 and want to start then. On the other hand, up to age 70, SSA retirement increases the longer you wait due to delayed retirement credits. You choose.
4. Are SSA benefits payable to family members? If so, for you perhaps starting sooner is better. Without decreasing your benefit, eligible children or a spouse might receive a monthly benefit too.
5. Do you expect to die before your spouse? Will she or he be eligible for a survivors (widow/widower) benefit on your work record? Check this out. Delaying your benefits could provide a higher survivors benefit, if one is payable.
6. Are you eligible for both SSA 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 continue to grow. Starting retirement first could let the survivors benefit grow. Learn your options.
7. Will you continue working? You might be able to work and receive all your SSA retirement. Once reaching full retirement age, benefits are no longer limited by earnings. Ongoing employment might increase future benefits.
8. Medicare. Whether or not receiving monthly SSA benefits, are you approaching age 65? If your medical insurance is under a group plan based on your, or your spouse's, current employment, you may not need Medicare Medical Insurance (Part B) at age 65.
9. What does your spouse or partner want? Perhaps the most important question here. Discuss it together.
Contact the Social Security Administration in several ways. Visit the SSA Web site at (www.socialsecurity.gov) for information, retirement planning tools and online retirement and Medicare applications. Call the SSA national toll-free number 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. about your benefits or to make an appointment. Reach the Minot office directly at 866- 415-3193 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Howard I. Kossover is the Social Security Public Affairs Specialist for North Dakota and western Minnesota. Questions of general interest can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.