SAVVY SENIOR – Social Security calculators that can help you decide when to claim

Dear wise senior,

Can you recommend any good resources that can help my wife and I determine the best claim ages to maximize our Social Security retirement benefits?

just turned 62

Dear 62,

Deciding when to start collecting your Social Security benefits is one of the most complicated and important decisions in retirement. The difference between a good and a bad decision could cost you and your wife tens of thousands of dollars in your retirement, so doing your due diligence now is a very smart move.

Factors to consider

As you may already know, you can apply for Social Security anytime between age 62 and 70, but each year of waiting increases your benefits by 5-8%. However, there are other factors you need to consider to help you make a good decision, such as your health and family longevity, whether you plan to work in retirement, and spousal and survivor.

To help you weigh your claims strategies, you should know that Social Security Administration claims specialists are not trained or authorized to give you personal advice on when you should start collecting your benefits. They can only provide you with information about how the system works under different circumstances. For advice, you will have to turn to other sources.

Online tools

Your first step for advice on Social Security claim strategy is to go to SSA.gov/myaccount to get your personalized statement that estimates what your retirement benefits will be between ages 62 and 70. These estimates are based on your annual income which is also shown on your report.

Once you’ve gotten your estimates for you and your wife, you can turn to a number of online social security policy calculators to compare your options so you can make an informed decision.

The best one which is completely free is Open Social Security (OpenSocialSecurity.com), which runs the calculations for each possible claim age (or, if you’re married, each possible combination of claim ages) and tells you which strategy is expected to provide the most spendable dollars over your lifetime.

But if you want a deeper analysis, consider paid calculators like Maximize My Social Security (MaximizeMySocialSecurity.com) or Social Security Solutions (SocialSecuritySolutions.com). These two tools, which are especially useful for married couples as well as divorced or widowed individuals, will run what-if scenarios based on your situation and show how different deposit strategies affect total payout over the same period.

Maximize My Social Security’s web-based service costs $40 per year for a household, while Social Security Solutions offers several levels of personalized online telephone counseling ranging from $20 to $250.

In-person advice

You may also be able to get help through a financial planner. Look for someone who is a fee-paying Certified Financial Planner (CFP) who bills on an hourly basis and has experience analyzing Social Security.

To find someone, use the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors’ online directory at NAPFA.orgor try the Garrett Planning Network (GarrettPlanningNetwork.com), which is a network of paid advisors who charge between $150 and $300 per hour.

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