Making the Most of your Social Security Retirement Benefits

In order to make the most of your Social Security retirement benefits, it’s important to do research and plan ahead prior to withdrawing. Otherwise, you can leave thousands of dollars on the table over the course of your lifetime.

Deciding when to withdraw your benefits involves both math and good judgment. You should base your decision on your relative health and expected longevity. While it’s nearly impossible to know how long you will live, there may be some helpful indicators, such as family history. Most people today can expect to live ten years longer than their parents. In addition, if you are beginning to experience medical issues now (such as dementia, diabetes, etc.), this may factor into your decision of when to withdraw. While no one knows what’s in store, you can use your good judgment to determine when the best time is to withdraw.

If you are expecting a shorter life expectancy, then taking your Social Security benefits at age 62 will provide you with more money over time. However, it’s important to know that taking your Social Security early will reduce your benefits by 25% over your lifetime. In addition, you must consider another negative to withdrawing your benefit early – if you’re still working when you begin to withdraw, you will be penalized $1 for every $2 that you earn annually over $15,480. Therefore, unless health reasons demand it, it’s a bad idea to withdraw your Social Security early if you’re working and earning more than this amount.

Those who wait until age 66 will receive their full Social Security benefit with no penalty for earned income. However, the latest that you can withdraw is age 70. You should never withdraw past age 70, as you will only lose money. Every year that you wait to withdraw past age 66, you will receive 8% more in benefits. Therefore, if you expect to live past age 82 ½, you should wait until age 70 to withdraw to get the most money out of your election.

Many don’t know that special Social Security benefit rules apply to those who have been divorced, as well as those who are widowed. If you’re over age 62, were previously married for 10 years, and have been divorced for more than 2 years, you can elect to withdraw from your divorced spouse’s work record. When you withdraw from your former spouse’s Social Security, it does not in any way affect his or her benefits.

When a spouse dies, the surviving spouse has the ability to withdraw their spouse’s Social Security as early as age 60. You can take your spouse’s benefit and delay your own until age 66 or 70. This is one of the reasons why we encourage the higher breadwinner to delay taking his or her Social Security, as it maximizes the benefit for both spouses.

If you’re a widower who remarries after age 60, you can base your Social Security withdrawal decision on your own work record, your spouse’s, or your former spouse’s record who’s deceased. This is a huge benefit for former widows and widowers. If you remarry earlier, you will lose this ability.

Finally, we encourage some breadwinners to apply to Social Security to delay their benefits on reaching age 66. They will then receive these benefits at age 70. Then, the breadwinner’s spouse can take half of the higher earner’s Social Security and delay his or her own. This will allow them to pull out far more from the Social Security system than withdrawing on their own records alone. Utilizing this technique generally means an increase in over $100,000 in the couple’s lifetime in Social Security benefits.

Warren Coble, located in Asheville, NC, specializes in helping seniors get the most out of their Medicare and Social Security benefits. You can visit his website at, or call him at (336) 879-0848. W.G. Alexander & Associates is not affiliated directly or indirectly with Warren Coble, but he is a Senior Services Advisor that our firm recommends to clients. If you have questions about Social Security benefits, Medicaid, or Veterans benefits, consider W.G. Alexander & Associates – we offer a unique blend of asset protection, Elder Law and estate planning. You can also attend our free seminars, learn more through our website at, or call us at (919) 256-7000.

Attorney Bill Alexander discusses these issues and more every Tuesday morning on W.G. Alexander & Associates’ radio program, “Asset Protection Today,” on TalkRadio 850 WPTK (AM). Be sure to listen from 9:00-10:00 AM.