Jul 11, 2017

Be your own Social Security advocate

About 10,000 Americans turn 65 each day, according to the Pew Research Center. Social Security offices are fielding massive numbers of inquiries as the Baby Boomers head into their benefits-collecting years. Unfortunately, studies show that office staff do not consistently provide the most complete or accurate information. This can result in an applicant unknowingly leaving dollars in rightful benefits on the table.

I first reported on this problem in my September 2016 post on the General Accounting Office's study. That study led to additional training for Social Security personnel. However, a June 2017 Kiplingers article reveals that deficiencies persist, particularly involving these issues: 

  • When to start collecting: Some people will need to collect before full retirement age because of health, financial or other issues. But studies show that others collect early simply because they do not understand the monetary value of waiting. 
  • Spousal Benefits: David Frietag of the MassMutual Financial Group notes that single people have 9 different ways to claim benefits, but married couples have 81 options, making their choices far more complicated. There is no-one- size-fits-all plan for optimizing a married couple's Social Security benefits. Each spouse's age, life expectancy and earnings must be considered. Additional rules apply when there has been a divorce and/or remarriage. Social Security agents do not always do the in-depth analysis required for married couples to choose wisely. 
  • Working and collecting benefits: If you collect benefits before your full retirement age but keep working and earn more than $16,920, Social Security deducts $1 from every $2 in benefits - but only until full retirement age is reached.

Social Security agents certainly mean well. But they are working in a very complex system, fielding a high volume of inquiries. Moreover, every applicant has individual circumstances and goals that need to be analyzed in order for Social Security benefits to be maximized. Therefore, when it comes to Social Security, you must be your own advocate. There are many resources available online and at your local library.  Here are some helpful ones:

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