Switching Social Security Benefits

Too many of us don’t understand Social Security well enough to maximize our retirement goals. For those of us who take the time to become educated on our Social Security benefits, it can make a huge difference in retirement, whether that is just making ends meet, or ensuring we retain our desired lifestyle.

If you have worked 40 hours a week for 40 years than you have worked for 80,000 hours contributing to your Social Security retirement annuity. Spending a few hours to understand how Social Security cash flow works, how it retains value due to cost of living adjustments, and how to switch benefits over time is critically important to maximizing your retirement goals.

Most of us will switch benefits during our lifetime, sometimes this occurs naturally, other times we need to be pro-active to take advantage of these benefit options. There are earned benefits, spousal benefits, ex-spousal benefits, survivor benefits (also available for ex-spouses), family benefits and disability benefits. Depending on your personal situation, all or some of these are important to understand. Attending a seminar, discussing options with your financial advisor or reading a book on Social Security will help you make better benefit decisions.

I’ll complete this article with a real life story and disregard annual cost of living adjustments to keep the math simple.

We’ll call this woman Jane. She attended one of my Social Security seminars. We met to discuss how she could maximize her Social Security benefits. Jane is 64 years old, retired, has a small pension and a modest amount of savings. She was recently widowed. Before marrying her deceased husband she had been divorced. That previous marriage lasted over 10 years. Like most people, she would like to maximize her Social Security benefit resources to sustain her retired lifestyle.

Jane is currently collecting a survivor benefit of $900 per month. Her ex-husband from the previous marriage has a full retirement age benefit of $2,600 and Jane’s earned benefit is $1,800. A key point is that Jane’s former marriage lasted over 10 years, as anything less than 10 years would negate an ex-spousal benefit and survivor benefit based on her ex-husband’s earning.
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