Social Security Choices

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Secret Strategies

Below are three examples of the little-known or poorly understood strategies we employ to help you maximize your Social Security benefits. When appropriate, these and other strategies may increase your lifetime Social Security benefits substantially (by tens-of-thousands of dollars in some instances).

Filing a Restricted Application for "Free Spousal" Benefits

Due to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 that was passed by Congress and signed by the President, the applicability of strategies in this section have changed and this option is available only to people who were born in 1953 or earlier.

When married people (and many divorcees) reach their full retirement age, they have the option of filing a restricted application for spousal benefits only, letting their retirement benefits continue to grow. These spousal benefits are "free" in the sense that one does not need to give up anything in order to get them. In contrast, anyone claiming spousal benefits prior to their full retirement age incurs a cost: they are forced by the SSA to also claim their retirement benefits.

We find that optimal claiming strategies rely more frequently on restricted applications than on filing and suspending. To learn more about the restricted application (or free spousal) strategy, visit this page.

Benefits for Divorcees

Are you divorced (and not remarried)? If so, then you may be aware that divorcees may be able to claim benefits on their former spouses earnings record, provided certain requirements are met (for instance, your marriage lasted at least 10 years and you have been divorced for at least 2 years).

But, you probably do not know that divorcees who qualify for benefits receive more favorable treatment from Social Security than do spouses. If a spouse wants to claim spousal benefits, then the other spouse must also claim their own retirement benefits. However, as a divorcee you do not need to wait until your former spouse claims his or her retirement benefits. As long as your former spouse is eligible to claim retirement benefits, then you may be able to claim divorcee benefits.

For more on the divorcee case, start at our Homepage for Divorced Persons.

Claiming at 66: Usually a Bad Idea for Singles

You may know that claiming benefits at age 66 is popular, second only to claiming benefits at age 62. However, we bet you didn't know the following. For single persons seeking strictly to maximize the value of their lifetime Social Security benefits (in today's dollars), it is usually a bad idea to claim at 66. Some other claiming age is typically better for maximizing the discounted overall value of lifetime Social Security benefits.

We can make an even stronger statement for singles who are less than 65 years old and who are seeking strictly to maximize their lifetime benefits. For such people, claiming at age 66 is always a bad idea. To illustrate, imagine a 61-year-old single woman trying to decide when to claim in order to maximize her lifetime benefits (in today's dollars). Depending on her life expectancy, she should claim benefits between the ages of 62 to 65 or between the ages of 67 to 70--but not at age 66. This applies to those individuals born between 1943 and 1954 with an full retirement age of 66.

We uncovered these surprising results through our careful analysis of the Social Security benefit structure for single persons.