Social Security Strategies

Want to figure out how to milk every last drop?

Social Security as Longevity Insurance

By 2033, the Social Security Administrations (SSA) estimates a benefit shortfall of about 24%. While it seems unlikely the SSA will eliminate the benefit, it may be prudent to plan on a proration of your benefit, depending on your age. The government will likely fund the benefit shortfall by implementing one (or more) of the items below:

  • Increase the employment tax
  • Increase the wage base
  • Bump up the full retirement age
  • Change the CPI index used to adjust for cost of living

Social Security: Key Facts and Concepts

Wage Requirements

  • You must have 40 quarters of earnings on file with the SSA to qualify for benefits.
  • The SSA takes your highest 35 years of earnings to calculate your benefit.
  • The new wage limit in 2022 is $147K (i.e., earnings above this amount do not impact your benefit).
  • You receive a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) even when you delay the benefit.

Age to Claim

  • You receive your full retirement benefit at “full retirement age,” which is 67 if born after 1960.
  • You can claim as early as 62 and as late as age 70.
    • At age 62, you’ll receive a 30% reduction in benefits.
    • At age 70, you’ll receive a 32% increase in benefits (8% per year each year after age 67).

Spousal Benefit & Estate Planning

  • If a spouse opts to delay claiming until age 70 and subsequently passes, the surviving spouse will receive 100% of the higher benefit.
    • Please remember, you can only receive one benefit, resulting in lower overall Social Security income, but inflation-protected.
  • A spousal benefit is based on the higher of the two benefits.
    • There is no longer a “file and suspend” feature, but you can switch your benefits at the first spouse’s death.
  • If you divorced your ex-spouse at least 2 years ago, but you were married at least 10 years and have not remarried, you can claim based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record if you’re at least 62.
    • You don’t have to wait for your ex-spouse to claim.
    • Please remember, if you claim before your full retirement age, your benefit will be reduced.
  • Other circumstances that qualify you to receive benefits:
    • If a spouse passed and the surviving spouse is caring for a child under 16, or a disabled child under 22, you are eligible.
    • Also, a child can receive benefits if under 18 or disabled before 22.

Social Security Claiming Strategies

  • Claiming at age 62 results in a lower benefit over a longer period.
  • Delayed claiming results in a higher benefit over a shorter period.

Which one should you pick?

In a low-interest rate environment, wealthy and healthy individuals (especially women) receive the greatest benefit by delaying claiming to age 68-70. When planning as a couple, generally, the higher-earning spouses should claim last. If one spouse isn’t in great health, we recommend claiming earlier. We consider the longevity of the couple, not the individual.

Delayed Claiming: Taxation & Portfolio Longevity

Keep in mind that withdrawals from an IRA increase “provisional income,” which is used to calculate the taxation of your Social Security benefit. This means there’s some strategy involved when meeting cash flow needs (IRA, Social Security, etc.) and being tax-efficient in the process.

  • Withdrawals from an IRA, if comprised of deductible contributions, are 100% taxed as ordinary income.
  • If your household income is over $44K and you file a joint tax return, you will pay tax on 85% of your Social Security benefit.

So how can you maximize the remaining assets for your surviving spouse and heirs and meet your cash flow needs? Much of it depends on your asset location and the basis in your IRAs. This is where a professional can help!

Generally speaking, if you delay your claiming strategy, you not only increase your benefit, but you may also compress the taxation of your Social Security benefit (i.e., a higher benefit received over a shorter time period which may be taxed at the same or lower rate if you can withdraw less from your qualified accounts). This translates to withdrawing from your IRAs before claiming your benefit, thereby decreasing your required minimum distributions at age 72 from your IRAs. If you can live on Social Security and RMDs from your IRAs, your investment portfolio will continue growing.

Other Bridging Strategies Before Claiming Your Benefit

Interested in delaying Social Security but not sure how to meet cash flow needs? Consider one of these strategies:

  • Taking out a HELOC
  • Withdrawing the cash value of life insurance
  • Electing a lump sum pension vs. an annuity (if given the option)

Social Security Strategies: Closing Thoughts

Many think they can replace their Social Security benefit with a commercial annuity – the cost to do this is prohibitive!

Furthermore, cognitive decline often happens when you’re the most financially stable.  Remember that these funds go directly to your bank account, which makes them less likely susceptible to theft.

The longer the expected longevity, the sooner the breakeven point occurs to delay claiming their Social Security benefit.

​If you or your parents are interested in talking through these concepts, reach out to us today!