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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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February 24, 2011 at 11:08 pm

I am 58, my spouse of 10.5 years is 5 months younger than I. My former spouse is 61, a retired Army officer and just recently retired from the US Post Office (we were married for twenty years). My husband was married three times before, each time for less than 10 years. We both qualify for SS benefits and have small amounts of savings/IRAs. I also have a small teacher retirement from Texas. I would be quite interested in seeing what your calculator says for us.

Shirley Walrod
February 24, 2011 at 6:07 pm

I am 63; my husband is 67. He is collecting $1,500 a month in SS but still working so we can have health insurance. He plans to retire (unless the stock market crashes) at 70. I would be able to go on Medicare (I am diabetic) at 65, but I would wait to at least 67 years of age for full benefits. Then I may just work (I'm an online instructor in a graduate program)part time (unless the stock market crashes)until 70. I am unfamiliar with a spouse being able to collect half of the other spouse's benefit. We have two children, grown, with family, and earning decent incomes. Is this a plan? We don't have a huge 401k or other big investments, as we started saving late (another reason we keep on working).

Thomas R. Hunt
February 23, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I turn 63 next month; I hope to retire in three years with
a government pension of $4,300.00 monthly.

I have twenty four years in social security and my SSA
pension at age 66 will be $1,650.00 monthly less any offset.

I have an IRA that will pay me $1,000.00 monthly when I begin
to take it; it will last approximately five years.

My health is compromised and my life expectancy is about six more years.

My spouse is 58 and my only child is 29.

Wanda Keck
February 23, 2011 at 9:04 am

I will be 62 in a couple of months and plan to continue working until at least full retirement age of 66. My husband is 65 and has been collecting Social Security Disability (now $1374.00 per month) for a little over 11 years. I believe my most recent SS statement indicates that I would receive approx. $1,800 per month if I start receiving benefits at 66.

Paul Gladstone
February 23, 2011 at 12:32 am

I am 65, divorced 2X (#1 is 63, #2 is 53; both have remarried) I have two eleven year old children living with me. Unemployed for last two years; prior to that , always maxed out my SS contributions. Apply now? Wait for 66? Wait for 70 or something in between.

February 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I am 51 and a widow. My husband was 10 years older, passed away five years ago. It was first marriage for both. I will work til at least 62. I have four children, two who are still receiving my husband's death benefits. He made significantly more money than I do, which is 35k/year. If I take benefits now will it affect my benefits later?

February 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I am 65 and am currently living on a VA disability. I've been fortunate to have had an income, currently $985 monthly, since 1998. Prior to that my employment and life history was dismal due to a mental health issue not formally recognized until 1998. (I had no health insurance for most of my life). I do have enough social security credits to be eligible for the retirement benefit. As I "don't need" the benefit immediately, I don't plan on applying for it until just before my 70th birthday. Do you see any errors in my logic?

I was divorced in 1976 and have no idea of my former wife's presence. She has been an elementary school teacher as we graduated from college together in 1973. I have never remarried and have no children.

Amado Lacap Jr
February 21, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I am 65 and still working and married. My wife is 68. She retired at age 62 and receiving a small amount of SS retirement benefit. I am planning on continuing to work for 3 more years but I have filed my retirement when I was 64 but did not get anything because I am still working. I was told I would automatically receive my retirement benefit when I reach 66 which is 2012 even if I continue to work and receiving more that the required income base.

February 19, 2011 at 2:20 am

62, single, and plan to work 4 more years to receive a pension about $300 monthly and then retire. Annual Income $22K. SSB right now would be $1100, in 4 years $1500. Receive SS early or wait till 66?

February 19, 2011 at 1:09 am

62, single, and plan to work 4 more years to receive a pension about $300 monthly and the retire. Annual Income $22K. SSB right now would be $1100, in 4 years $1500. Receive SS early or wait till 66?