When you choose to begin receiving benefits will substantially affect the amount of your monthly payments.

Most people who have been employed are eligible for Social Security benefits. You may ask, how much will my benefits be? Well, that is determined by your earnings history, taking into account your top 35 earnings years, adjusted for average wage inflation. When you choose to begin receiving benefits will substantially affect the amount of your monthly payments.

You may begin collecting benefits as early as age 62; however, your benefit will be permanently reduced to 70%-75% of your full benefit. Taking benefits before your full retirement age also permanently reduces any spousal benefit you may be entitled to. For each year after your full retirement age (up until age 70) that you choose to delay taking Social Security, you earn “delayed retirement credits” that increase your future benefit by 8% annually. Moreover, if you continue working and delay taking Social Security, you might increase the earnings on which future Social Security benefits will be calculated.

Delaying Social Security benefits isn’t the only way to maximize them. Depending on your age and marital status, you may be able to take advantage of other strategies to make the most of your and your spouse’s benefits. Let’s review one of those examples.

Example:

Tim and Pam are a married couple. Tim has been a high wage earner for his entire career, and is entitled to receive the maximum Social Security benefit. For someone reaching full retirement age in 2017, that benefit would equal $2,687. However, Tim is 70, and by delaying the start of his benefits, he’s grown his monthly entitlement to $3,547.

Pam is currently 66, and has been earning $75,000 annually. If Pam were to claim her Social Security benefit under her own work record, she could receive $1,845 monthly. When Tim files to start his benefits, this will entitle Pam to file a “restricted application,” which allows her to claim her spousal benefit, based on what Tim was eligible to receive when he reached full retirement age. Pam is eligible for the restricted application because she was born January 1, 1954 or prior. Pam’s benefit would be $1,344 (1/2 of $2,687). Pam can collect this benefit, continue to work without any reduction to this benefit, and grow the benefit under her own work record for delayed retirement credits at a rate of 8% annually. When Pam turns 70, she can claim her benefit under her own work record. Thanks to the delayed retirement credits that she was able to earn, her benefit will have grown to approximately $2,435. She’ll continue to receive that amount until Tim passes away, let’s assume at age 90, and then she’ll then receive his benefit for the rest of her life.

Careful planning allows Tim and Pam to maximize their Social Security benefits by earning as many delayed retirement credits as possible through the use of the “restricted application” method.

Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, its affiliates, and its employees are not in the business of providing tax, regulatory, accounting, or legal advice. These materials and any tax-related statements are not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used or relied upon, by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding tax penalties. Any such taxpayer should seek advice based on the taxpayer’s particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor.

About the author

Michael Repak

Vice President & Senior Estate Planner

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