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Think carefully about when to apply for Social Security retirement benefits

Media contact:

Linda Geist
Writer
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9185
Email: GeistLi@missouri.edu

Published: Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016

Story source:

Cynthia Crawford, 573-882-5115

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Work longer. Save more.

It’s simple advice for those planning to retire, says Cynthia Crawford, University of Missouri Extension personal financial planning specialist. The further you are away from retirement, the more this advice is true.

Don’t think that Social Security benefits will be your primary source of income in retirement, Crawford says. On average, it replaces about 40 percent of income. For lower-income earners the percentage may be higher; for higher-income earners, that percentage may be substantially lower.

Social Security first started paying retirement benefits in the early 1940s and was never meant to be the sole source of income for retirees, Crawford says. Benefits are meant to supplement other retirement income like pension plans or defined contribution plans and your personal savings and investments.

If you have concerns about living longer than your savings and investments last, one strategy is to work longer and delay applying for Social Security benefits until at least your full retirement age. Each year you delay collecting benefits after age 62, benefits increase by 6 to 8 percent.

“This is a permanent raise you can’t outlive,” she says. “Waiting from age 62 to age 70, if you can, will increase your monthly Social Security benefit by more than 75 percent, and that is an increase that will benefit you in increased monthly income for the remainder of your life.”

Continuing to work also gives you more time to catch up on retirement savings and investments if you got off to a slow start planning for retirement.

Patience has rewards for family members too. For example, your decision on when to claim benefits could affect spousal benefit levels.

With the exception of cost of living increases, benefit levels max out at age 70, Crawford says, so begin collecting Social Security by age 70.

Benefits are based upon your 35 highest-earning years, she says. Many people mistakenly believe that wages from your last five working years and the amount of time you worked determine benefits.

You can review your Social Security account to know what your benefits will be at 62, full retirement age and 70 when you register at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/.

Crawford summarizes:

• Know your full retirement age before deciding when to collect benefits.

• Don’t claim benefits early unless you have to.

• Know what it will cost to live as a retiree so you make sure you will have adequate income.

For more personal finance information from MU Extension, including feature articles, answers to frequently asked questions and learning opportunities, go to www.missourifamilies.org/money.