I recently saw a good article by Aimee Picchi on CBS MONEYWATCH about the five mistakes people make when filing for Social Security.
According to a study by Mass Mutual, people lack knowledge regarding Social Security. As Picchi suggest, this isn’t surprising given the complexity of the Social Security code that is captured in a 2,700 page tome.
She outlines five most common misunderstandings that may lead to reduced Social Security benefits if you’re unaware:
- Assuming that US Citizenship is required to receive benefits. In truth, resident aliens may also be eligible for benefits.
- Assuming that the full retirement age (FRA) is 65. That used to be the case, but as life spans have lengthened and demands have increased on the system, the FRA has been extended to age 66 or 67; depending on when you were born. For people born between 1943 and 1954, the full retirement age is 66. For those born between 1955 and 1959, the FRA increases every two months above 66 years old. For people born after 1960, the FRA is 67. If you file before you hit your FRA, you will receive reduced benefits for the rest of your life – and you can’t go back.
- If you work while receiving Social Security it will affect your benefits. In 2015, for example, if you earn over $15,720, you will have $1 of your Social Security benefits withheld for every $2 of earnings $15,720. This occurs if you take your benefits before full retirement age.
- If you are divorced, you can claim based on your ex-spouses earnings record. This is true as long as you were married 10 years, have not remarried and are at least 62 years old.
- If your spouse passes away, you cannot claim both your own benefits and your spouse’s. You can only claim one or the other. This can have a negative impact to one’s retirement plan if one were planning to receive both Social Security benefits.
Instead of trying to understand the complicated Social Security system, we recommend you work with a CFP® professional to develop a personalized financial plan that includes Social Security benefits. Filing at the wrong time can cause a loss of thousands of dollars in benefits, and is typically a mistake that cannot be corrected. You have worked and paid into the system for years, so be proactive in figuring out what is best for you. Don’t wait until you hit the year you think you’re eligible. Determine your strategy prior to turning age 60 and monitor your plan.