Do you have a Social Security game plan?

When and how you file can make a big difference.

For many of us, Social Security is the lynchpin that holds our retirement plans together. That’s because this federally insured program has the unique ability to protect us from a host of financial challenges like market downturns, inflation, declining interest rates, and worries about outliving our money if we are blessed with longevity.

Even though Social Security benefits are guaranteed, it’s important to remember that your monthly payments can vary greatly based on two key factors: 1) when you file your claim, and 2) how you file your claim. Here’s a closer look…

When to claim.

Contrary to popular belief, the government does not issue Social Security payments as soon as you are eligible. First, you have to apply, and then, if you are approved, you have to let them know when you would like to claim or “collect” your benefits. Generally, you will have three options:

On time (full benefits) – Once you reach what the government calls your “full retirement age,” you are eligible to receive 100% of your projected Social Security benefit. Your full retirement age depends on the year you were born.1

Year of birth Full retirement age
1943-1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 or later 67

Claim early (reduced benefit) – Regardless of when you were born, you can claim your benefit as early as age 62—but at a reduced rate. The earlier you claim, the less you’ll receive. Those who claim their benefit at age 62 currently lose 25% of their total benefit.2

Delayed claim (enhanced benefit) – Conversely, if you wait to claim your benefit, you will receive higher monthly payments than originally projected. The longer you wait, the more your payments will increase. In fact, Social Security benefits increase 5-8% every year you wait beyond full retirement age; but you must claim your benefits by age 70.

How to claim.

While claiming your benefit can be fairly simple, there are strategies you can use to increase the total amount you—and in some cases your loved ones—receive over time. This is especially true if you are married, divorced, or have dependent minor children. Here are some common strategies you can use to help maximize your benefits:

Claim a spousal benefit—If you are married, or were married to your former spouse for at least 10 years, you may be eligible to claim an amount equal to 50% of your spouse’s (or former spouse’s) benefit. This strategy is typically used by spouses who did not work, or who earned significantly less than their partners, as the spousal benefit is often larger than what they would normally receive on their own. What’s more, this benefit has no impact on the amount your spouse will receive when he or she decides to claim.

File and suspend—With this strategy, you file for your benefit as soon as you reach full retirement age, but do not claim it until later. That way, your spouse and dependent children will inherit the entire amount if you pass away, and your benefit will continue to grow until needed, or until you reach age 70, whichever comes first.

File a restricted application—For dual-income families, this is like having your cake and eating it too. Here’s how it works. As a working spouse, you are eligible to receive one of two benefits: the spousal benefit mentioned above, or the benefit you have earned throughout your working career. While most people choose their earned benefit—which is usually higher—this strategy lets you ”restrict” your claim to the spousal benefit at first, then switch to your own later on. That way, you will enjoy some income now, while allowing your future benefit to grow 5-8% a year.

It’s more than a game—it’s your future.

Deciding when, and how, to claim Social Security benefits is a big decision. That’s why it’s so important to have a game plan going in and to weigh all your options before deciding on a course of action. Click here to learn more important facts about Social Security. Let us know if you’d like some help, and be sure to visit to make sure you have all the documents and information you need.

Neither New York Life Insurance Company nor its agents provide tax or legal advice. Please consult your own tax, legal, or accounting advisors to find out more about the personal consequences of the general subject matter of this article.


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