Your Biggest Financial Decision

What’s the biggest financial decision you’ll ever make? Going to college? Buying a house? Maybe, but it may also be true that the biggest financial decision is the decision about when to claim Social Security. And that is a decision where you’ll hear people give opposite advice – some will recommend claiming early, and others encourage you to wait.

Because it’s a big decision, it’s worth exploring your options carefully using readily available online tools. Tool #1 is well-known, but read on to tool #2, as well, because it offers a bonus.

Tool #1: Set up your account at www.socialsecurity.gov and check out your options. Notice how your monthly Social Security income changes depending on your age at claim. You’ll notice that it’s not just what year, but also what month, that matters. For example, if you turn 67 in November, but really don’t have any plans until summer, working an extra 5 or 6 months will give you a higher monthly income.

Tool #2: Check out the Social Security Estimator from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  Although this tool is not personalized to your individual history of work and earnings, it does something the Social Security tool does not. It shows the cumulative impact of your decision about when to claim. 

Here’s how the CFPB tool works: You enter your birthdate, and type in how much has been your highest annual earned income in your career. Based on that, it estimates what your social security retirement benefit would be at your full retirement age, and at other ages between 62 and 70. When you select an age, it shows what your monthly income will be, AND (in the left margin) it shows the total amount you will receive from Social Security if you live to the average life expectancy of 85.

graphic depiction of output described.
Combined graphic showing calculator results at ages 62 and 70

I ran an example for a person born in 1960 whose highest earning level was $50,000/year. If they claimed at age 62 and lived till age 85, they would receive a monthly benefit of $1,112 and would have received a total of $305,800 from Social Security during their life. By contrast, if they claimed at age 70 and lived to age 85, their monthly benefit would be $1,958 and their total by age 85 would be $352,440. Note: all these figures would actually be higher, because of adjustments for inflation.

There is no “right” age to claim Social Security; your choice depends on your situation – your needs, other sources of income, health situation, and more. But using available tools, including the CFPB calculator which enables you to easily see the total impact of your decision at age 85, will help you make a well-informed decision. Find more retirement planning information our retirement resource page.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Social Security Matters – at any age

April is National Social Security Month.  It’s really fitting that they chose April, because April is also Financial Literacy Month.  And understanding your Social Security situation is an important part of Financial Literacy.

If you’re under 40, you may be surprised to consider that you need to pay attention to Social Security. (Even some people under 60 may be surprised at that idea!).  Now I’m not suggesting you need to fully understand Social Security – that’s a tall order.  But you do need to be aware of your own social security record and what it means.

The key your record is found at my Social Security.  Here you can activate your own on-line account so that you can log in any time; this lets you verify the accuracy of your earnings record, learn what you can expect in retirement or disability benefits, order a replacement social security card, and more.

Why it matters. On average, Social Security replaces approximately 40 percent of pre-retirement earnings. To enjoy a comfortable retirement, most people will also need income from other sources — like pensions, savings, and investments. Understanding your social security projections can help you make informed plans for your own retirement.

Throughout the month of April, the Social Security Administration will boost its outreach through traditional media and social media, including a Facebook Live Chat:

Social Security will participate in a Facebook Live Chat, hosted by USA.gov, on April 20, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. ET. The public may ask questions via livestream about the “5 Steps Toward Financial Security.”

To participate, follow USA.gov and Social Security on Facebook.

NOTE: some young adults may be skeptical, questioning whether Social Security will still be around by the time they retire.  While Social Security will likely change over the next 2-4 decades, you will not find any experts who believe it will disappear.  Understanding your situation under current law will help you understand policy changes as they are proposed and enacted.  No matter your age, it’s smart to activate your Social Security account and see what it tells you.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Social Security Reform: 2005

1-intro-lgMy co-workers know that when I don’t have a desire to finish a task I’ll procrastinate by finding something to clean, sort or do that involves anything but sitting and typing. During this morning’s exercise in avoidance,  I came across an old file titled, Social Security Reform.

The materials collected were from 2005. The hot political discussion at the time was to change Social Security and allow individuals to move part of their contributions into private investment accounts. By law Social Security funds must be invested in government securities, and many viewed this investment as secure but under par for return. The proposal was met with mixed reviews;  many of the documents I had collected questioned the impact. Evidence could be found that suggested such a change would result in reduced retirement income for some individuals.

Each year the status of the Social Security program and it’s Trust Fund are reviewed and recommendations for change are made. The recurring themes  resulting from the review are to increase retirement ages, increase withholding from pay, and raise the dollar amount that is subject to the withholding tax.

I guess Congress has the same bad habit that I do, if you don’t want to deal with it at the moment, procrastinate! Perhaps in this case it was a good thing, the loss of investments in 2008 made us all aware that with expectations for high return come the risk of high losses. It stopped the political promotion of the idea that we should invest Social Security funds in equities. Unfortunately, just like the work I left undone on my desk this a.m., the Social Security program still needs to be fine tuned. Perhaps, just like my work, it doesn’t need any creative touches but time on task.

Joyce

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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Social Security Retirement Estimator

When you think about great on-line tools, Social Security may not be the first source that comes to mind — but they really do have great tools.   Here’s one that is useful to all adults as they plan for retirement (and I don’t mean when you turn 60!  By your early 30’s, it’s generally time). I encourage you to check out the Retirement Estimator.

The Retirement Estimator is an easy way to get an instant, personalized estimate of your future Social Security benefits. Just key in some basic information and the Estimator will use information on your Social Security record, along with what you input, to give you a benefit estimate on the spot. You even can experiment with different scenarios, such as changing your future earnings and retirement date. Check it out at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator

(It’s also available in Spanish at www.segurosocial.gov/calculador)

It’s easy and safe, and it’s an important step in making sure you’ll be ready when retirement rolls around!

– Barb

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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