Q & A
Ask Rusty – About Warnings to Make Sure I “file properly”
Dear Rusty: I am currently 63 years old and planning to delay retirement until 70 to maximize my benefit. I’ve been seeing a lot of financial planners advertising claims that you can lose thousands of dollars in benefits if you don’t “file properly.” Is there really anything more to it than simply applying for benefits when you are ready to retire? Do I really need to pay a financial advisor just to tell me how to apply to get the most benefits? Signed: Skeptical
Dear Skeptical: Nearly all the advertisements you see using language like that have an underlying purpose of trying to sell you something – usually a book, a subscription, or financial services. The phrase “losing thousands if you don’t file properly” are very generic words meant to lure you into contacting them so they can sell something to you. Reality is that “filing properly” means simply choosing the right age to file for benefits given your specific personal circumstances. And personal circumstances are different for everyone. There aren’t any tricks in the filing process itself – it’s really quite straightforward, and you can get all your Social Security filing questions answered here at The AMAC Foundation’s Social Security Advisory Service. Our staff of Social Security Advisors are fully trained and certified by the National Social Security Association (NSSA®), and we have years of experience on this complex topic. We provide Social Security information and answers to several thousand people each year, without a fee because we are a not-for-profit entity operating only on donations. And contacting us is easy at either firstname.lastname@example.org, or 1.888.750.2622.
As for when you should file, everyone’s personal situation is different, and your marital status should always be considered. But as an individual, waiting until age 70 will give you the maximum benefit available to you. If you are now 63, your age 70 benefit will be 29.3% more than it would be at your full retirement age of 66 years and 4 months, and about 65% more than you’d get at age 64. And provided you are in good health and expect at least average longevity (about 84) not only will your monthly payment be more, but you’ll collect more in cumulative lifetime benefits by waiting. And here’s an extra bonus – if you are married and you predecease your wife, her survivor benefit will be based upon that larger amount you were receiving because you delayed claiming. If she has reached her full retirement age, as your widow your wife will get 100% of your actual benefit. But if you were to claim earlier, your wife’s survivor benefit would be based on that smaller amount.
The answer to your specific question is that there is no magical way to apply for benefits once you determine the age at which you wish to file. You can file by calling the Social Security Administration directly, either at their general number (1.800.772.1213) or your local office (find it at www.ssa.gov/locator), or you can also file online at www.ssa.gov/retire. Filing online is by far the easiest and most efficient way to complete and submit your application for benefits.