There is no single right way to meet your monthly needs and expenses in retirement, but one component that plays a central role in the retirement cashflow plans of most Americans is Social Security.
With that in mind, it is no surprise that one of the most common questions we receive at Roehl & Yi is, “What age is best for drawing Social Security benefits?”
The answer can vary depending on a variety of factors, such as life expectancy, whether you are or were married, and what other assets you have available.
In this article, we will first review the basic factors that determine your Social Security benefits, options for drawing benefits, and finally, strategies to maximize those benefits.
How Do Social Security Benefits Work?
Social Security benefits are based on your work record, or more specifically, your 35 highest earning years.
You receive credits (during your working years) for every $1,510 (for 2022) that you earn. You can acquire up to four credits per year and need at least 10 years of credits (40 credits) to qualify for Social Security benefits on your own work record. Higher earnings will result in a higher lifetime benefit. Social Security calculates benefits on income up to $147,000 (as of 2022).
The Social Security Administration reviews your highest earning years, applies an index to account for changes in average wages since the earnings were received, and then applies a formula to determine the Primary Insurance Amount or “PIA.” The PIA is used to determine the monthly benefit amount, which may ultimately be higher or lower than the calculated PIA depending on when you begin drawing benefits.
Eligibility Considerations and Downsides of Drawing Benefits Prior to Full Retirement Age (FRA)
You become eligible for your full retirement benefit at your “Full Retirement Age” or “FRA.” The FRA varies from age 66 to 67 depending on when you were born. You may choose to draw benefits as early as age 62. However, it is important to note that if you draw benefits at age 62, your benefit will be reduced to 75% of the benefit at your FRA. This drop adjusts as you get closer to your FRA.
Further, there is an additional decline in benefits for those drawing prior to their FRA with earned income over $19,560 (for 2022). In other words, if you are drawing prior to your FRA and have income above $19,560, your benefit will be reduced by $1 for every $2 above $19,560 that you earn.
In many cases, it is worthwhile to wait until your FRA to draw, especially if you are still working. When you have reached your FRA, you can draw benefits and continue to earn wages without any offset.
If you choose to wait to draw your benefits, there is an increase in benefits of around 7% to 8% for each additional year you delay between your FRA and age 70. There is no added benefit to waiting after age 70.
Marriage and Social Security Benefits
For married individuals (or divorced individuals who were married for 10 years or longer), there are two potential sets of Social Security benefits:
- The benefit based on your own work record.
- The “spousal benefit,” which is based on your spouse’s work record.
The spousal benefit entitles you to 50% of your spouse’s Social Security benefit at your FRA, or 35% if you were to draw early at age 62. There is no increase in the spousal benefit for waiting beyond the FRA.
Your spouse must be drawing Social Security benefits for you to draw spousal benefits. Several years ago, the “file and suspend” strategy was touted as a way to allow your spouse to draw spousal benefits while allowing your benefits to continue to grow until age 70. In 2015, legislation was passed that ended the viability of this strategy. You will also be able to draw on the greater of your own benefit or your spouse’s Social Security benefit if your spouse passes away.
Strategies for Determining Social Security Draw Timeframes
There are important aspects most individuals should consider when determining the best time to draw Social Security.
The number one question that individuals must consider is at what age to begin drawing Social Security benefits.
For most individuals, it makes sense to wait at least until your FRA, especially if you are still working. If you have sufficient assets, it may even make sense to wait until 70 to draw, as a guaranteed growth rate of 7% to 8% is compelling.
The breakeven point for drawing at FRA versus age 70 is generally around mid-eighties (82-84). This brings us to the most complex element of Social Security planning: Longevity.
In basic terms, if you believe you will not live past age 70, drawing benefits sooner makes sense. However, if you are potentially going to live until age 92 and have sufficient outside assets to defer drawing Social Security, waiting until age 70 and collecting the guaranteed 7% to 8% will maximize your Social Security benefits.
Generally speaking, if you are healthy and have a family history of longevity, deferring until age 70 makes a lot of sense. This argument becomes stronger for married couples since the surviving spouse may receive the larger of the two Social Security benefits. The chances of at least one member of a married couple living past their mid-eighties is considerable.
The next primary Social Security planning strategy comes from optimizing spousal benefits and benefits based on work history.
For example, if you were over age 62 prior to 2016, there is potentially some planning that can be done with filing for spousal benefits only (i.e., restricted application) and deferring the benefits based on your own work record.
However, for everyone who was younger than age 62 on January 2, 2016, Social Security will automatically consider both spousal benefits and base those benefits on your own work record (i.e., deemed filing) when you file.
Get Help with Your Planning
Social Security is a substantial benefit and understanding different strategies that consider your retirement goals and cashflow makes sense.
Roehl & Yi Investment Advisors can assist with modeling different Social Security scenarios and help you to determine which path may best meet your needs.
Written by: SARAH MELLGREN, JD, CFP®, Roehl & Yi