I have been getting more and more e-mails from readers in their late 50s and early 60s who are doing some retirement planning and looking for ways to get the best return on their Social Security "investment." That's why I decided to produce a fact sheet that I call "Five Ways To Maximize Your Social Security Benefits." The fact sheet is too long to reproduce in this column. So, I am going to just briefly summarize its contents and then invite readers who want more information to send me an e-mail asking for a free electronic copy of the fact sheet. Just e-mail that request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is an overview of the five strategies you might be able to use to receive the best deal possible from Social Security.
— Take reduced benefits at 62. Repay those benefits at 66 and start all over at a full rate.
This little used scheme — more formally known within the Social Security Administration as the "restart plan" — would only work if you are retired before age 66 and if your Social Security benefits are not part of your retirement cash flow. You file for reduced retirement benefits from Social Security at age 62 (or any age before 66). But as you get the checks each month, you set aside all the proceeds in the investment plan of your choice. Then at age 66, you withdraw your original Social Security claim. You will be required to pay back all the benefits you have received, but you get to keep whatever interest was earned. Then you file a new claim with an age 66 start state (i.e., your full retirement age rate) and receive those benefits for the rest of your life.
— While you are still working, take reduced benefits at 62 and get an adjusted rate at 66.
This is the "ARF" plan that I have written about several times in recent columns. ARF stands for adjustment to the reduction factor. Under this plan, you would take early retirement or If benefits at a reduced rate, even though you are still working, assuming your earnings are at a level that permits you to receive at least some of your Social Security benefits between age 62 and 66. At age 66, the ARF provision automatically adjusts your original early retirement penalty, so that your ongoing rate reflects a reduction only for those months you actually received a Social Security check. The advantage to this plan is that you receive thousands of dollars in Social Security benefits before age 66, even though you are still working. You wind up with a Social Security benefit that isn't much less than your full retirement rate.
— Start your Social Security in January of your age 66 year and get unexpected benefits.
If you were planning to wait until age 66 to apply for Social Security, it is frequently to your advantage to apply for and start those benefits in January of the year you reach age 66. Explaining the advantages to this provision requires a lot of complicated math that I just don't have room for in this column, although the fact sheet gives a good example. Even without the messy math, the message is simple: Always check into filing for Social Security in January, even though you don't turn 66 until later in the year.
— Claim benefits from your spouse at 66 and get a higher retirement rate at 70.
This plan would work for a married couple when both are eligible for their own Social Security benefits. It allows one member of the couple to initially claim benefits on a spouse's Social Security record and then switch to much higher benefits on his or her own record at age 70. Those higher benefits would include an extra monthly bonus of up to 32 percent in "delayed retirement credits." Please note that under the rules of this plan, which SSA calls the "restricted application policy," both members of the couple must be age 66 or older.
— Let your nonworking spouse get some of your Social Security while you keep working.
This plan works for someone who is over age 66, still working and wants to delay his or her Social Security until age 70 to take advantage of the delayed retirement credits. But he or she has a spouse who is not working and is eligible for little or no Social Security on his or her own Social Security record. The higher earning spouse would file for Social Security at age 66, but then suspend those benefits until age 70 in order to get the delayed retirement bonus. However, the nonworking spouse would be able to receive dependent's benefits, even during the suspension period.
This column gave you only a broad overview of some very complicated provisions of Social Security law. If one or more of them piqued your interest, send me an e-mail requesting the full fact sheet, "Five Ways To Maximize Your Social Security." But even after you have read the fact sheet, you should realize that your own personal factors — your retirement plans , your earnings, your other income, your marital status, your health, etc. — present a unique set of circumstances that play a major role in determining if one or more of these plans can work for you. So, you should always discuss your options with a Social Security representative. You can make an appointment to do so by calling SSA at 1-800-772-1213 or going to their website at www.socialsecurity.gov.