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Maximize your Social Security

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Posted: 5 pm ET

I'm looking for three or four volunteers to help demonstrate how much difference the timing of taking Social Security benefits makes in the total amount that you are likely to collect throughout your retirement.

The suggestion that for many people delaying Social Security to at least full retirement age is a wise idea inevitably brings out a host of readers who feel strongly that doing so will prevent them from getting their fair share. One reason they cite is the need to forgo years of smaller amounts that appear to add up to more than they'd get if they waited for a larger payment.

Sometimes that's true -- but often it isn't. Jasuba, a New Jersey-based technology company, has devised a calculator that allows people doing retirement planning to plug in the estimate they receive annually from Social Security, their birth dates, their marital status and a couple of other key facts and see how much various Social Security scenarios would net them.

The tool is available to anyone for $39.99. I initially bought it to calculate numbers for my husband and me, then I was so amazed by the differences in the potential collection scenarios it presented that I decided to write about it. When I contacted the company to let them know I planned to do this, its staff gave me access to a more sophisticated version of the software that allows for even more potential scenarios, including those available to divorced and widowed people.

The scenario that worked best for us was one I would never have contemplated. The calculator concluded that we would collect the most if my husband, who is five years older than I am, waits to collect until I'm 62 and he's 67. At that point, I would "file and suspend" my Social Security benefit (because I still plan to be working), allowing him to collect the spousal benefit -- half of my benefit -- while I delayed collecting my own Social Security until I reach 66, my full retirement age. When my husband reaches 70, he would refile for maximum Social Security on his own record. It sounds complicated, but it nets us nearly $90,000 more over about 15 years than if we both waited until full retirement age to collect.

I'd like to use this calculator to run some more scenarios and share the results with readers. If you'd like me to use your numbers, tell me so in the comments section below. Describe briefly your situation, including your marital status -- married, divorced or widowed -- your age and your spouse or your ex-spouse's age. I'll choose three or four people with various circumstances and contact you via e-mail. If you agree to participate, I'll need more information, but I don't have to publish your name.

This could be an enlightening exercise for everyone.

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Chris D
March 11, 2011 at 8:51 pm

I am a divorced 54 yr. old woman. I have worked since I was 16 but took 12 years off to raise my kids. My ex is 59 and has worked steadily and well all his life. I do not see much chance of retiring before I am really old.

My divorce has really taken a toll on my finances. I know I have the option of attaching to my ex's SS but I am really confused about what my best options are. I would be very grateful for any help/information you can give me to make Social Security work most efficiently for me.

March 10, 2011 at 9:18 pm

I am 57 years old and retired at 55 (laid off) from a IMRF position and am receiving a monthly pension from this. I don't believe this effects my social security. I work full-time as an independent contractor at a very low salary plus intermittent commission, and my employer is not taking out social security for me. I have ill parents and would like to stop working to help care for them. My husband is 59 and wants to retire at 62. If you still need someone for your study, I would be interested in participating.