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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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March 09, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I would like you to run our numbers. I'm 60, my husband is 53. I think I'll be laid off soon and thinking about when to start collecting. I'll probably keep working but probably won't find a job at my current salary.

Walt Hollon
March 09, 2011 at 9:04 am

I was 64 in January and my wife was 64 in August of 2010. I began drawing benefits at 62 as did my wife. We are in a position to pay back and reevaluate our options. Neither of us are working at the moment and we have no plans to work again. We live overseas. We have been married 41 years and are both U.S. citizens.

We would like to participate in your study. Thank you.

MIke Young
March 08, 2011 at 7:03 pm

I am age 63 my wife is 56. I am working full time and she is working very part time.

J. Lambert
March 04, 2011 at 10:26 pm

I started drawing SS at 62 because I was out of work. I am exactly in the middle of amount received. I work part time and make about the minimum amount without paying income tax. I will be 65 end of next year and plan to work more if physically able.
Can I increase my SS benefit by working while receiving SS?

March 04, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Marital Status: Married
Husband Age: 63
Wife Age: 62

My wife has not worked for 15 years. I plan to work to age 66 whereupon I will file and suspend and my wife will get 1/2 of my amount. Then when we both turn 70, we will file for our own benefits.

We believe that this plan will maximize our benefits unless your analyses shows otherwise. We do not need the SS money now, but because we have personal life expentancies of 93 and 103, we will definitely need the highest amount in our 90's.

We would like to participate in your study. Thanks.

Jo Anne
March 04, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Social Security doesn't tell you that if you wait until your full retirement age and still work full time they will tax your benefits,, they tell you if you wait you'll get your full benefit versus retiring early and getting less,, Don't understand why we have to pay taxes on the benefits as they took taxes on the money when they took the social security money out of our paycheck,, I'm 66 divorced and the mother of a 41 year old son with mulitple physical challenges, who cannot not care for himself,, I cancelled my application for benefits when I realzed taking them would cost me too much, I will always have to care for him so I'll always be employed , where does this leave me,, My salary is in the $40,000 range

March 04, 2011 at 10:15 am

I'd like to participate. I'm married, age 60, my wife Nancy is age 55. I retired at the age of 57 from my corporate job and have since down some consulting, but no longer pay into the SS system. I can live without benefits beginning at age 62, but have struggled figuring out what age would be best.

March 04, 2011 at 9:38 am

I'm sure I'm not unique BUT I was unexpectedly unemployed at age 62. With the economy woes and a spouse's modest salary I was forced to begin collecting. Thank God the stars were aligned because we needed the extra income. Forgot to add we have a daughter at a pricey school in Boston. Point is, there is no hard and fast rule to dictate when you start drawing--you just go on and try to make lemonade!

March 04, 2011 at 9:16 am

I am 64 and have had open-heart surgery; my wife is 63 and is a cancer survivor. I am still working full-time and bring in about $42K; my wife is on SS and makes about $600.00/month (after working nearly 45 years!!!) Married 43 years. Should I begin drawing SS at 66, even though I plan to continue working at least one of my 2 jobs? Is there a penalty or income limit at 66? Can we increase her SS?

March 03, 2011 at 11:32 am

I just turned 64 years old. I am still working and will probably be working for many years to come. I earn $24k a year. I started
receiving social security checks so I could put the extra money into something that will work for me.
However, since I am still working they are keeping one dollar of every two I am suppose to receive. I heard that if I put enough of my income into an IRA so my yearly income is at or below the maximum $14k. I won't have to lose that money.
Or, I can cancel the social security checks and pay back the amount I have received already and wait to start collecting again at an older age.
Thanks for your help it is greatly appreciated.