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Social Security calculators can help you decide when to claim

Dear Savvy Senior: Can you recommend some good resources that can help my wife and me determine the best ages for claiming Social Security so we can maximize our retirement benefits? — Just Turned 62

Dear 62: Deciding when to start collecting your Social Security benefits is one of the most complicated and consequential decisions in retirement. The difference between a good decision and a poor one could cost you and your wife tens of thousands of dollars over your retirement, so doing your due diligence now is a smart move.

Factors to consider

As you might already know, you can claim Social Security anytime between the ages of 62 and 70, but each year you wait increases your benefits between 5% and 8%. However, there are other factors you need to take into account to help you and your wife make good decisions, like your health and family longevity, whether you plan to work in retirement, and spousal and survivor benefits.

To help you weigh your strategies, you need to know that Social Security Administration claims specialists are not trained or authorized to give personal advice on when a person should start drawing your benefits. They can only provide information on how the system works under different circumstances. To get advice, you’ll need to turn to other sources.

Online tools

Your first step in getting strategy advice for when to claim Social Security is to go to SSA.gov/myaccount to get your personalized statement that estimates what your retirement benefits will be at ages 62 through 70. These estimates are based on your yearly earnings that are also listed on your report.

Once you get estimates for both you and your wife, there are a number of online Social Security strategy calculators you can turn to that can compare your options so you can make an informed decision.

The best one that’s free to use is Open Social Security (OpenSocialSecurity.com), which runs the math for each possible claiming age (or, if you’re married, each possible combination of claiming ages) and reports back, telling you which strategy is expected to provide the most total spendable dollars over your lifetime.

But if you want a more thorough analysis, consider fee-based calculators like Maximize My Social Security (MaximizeMySocialSecurity.com) or Social Security Solutions (SocialSecuritySolutions.com). These tools, which are particularly helpful for married couples and divorced and widowed people, will run what-if scenarios based on your circumstances and show how different filing strategies affect the total payout over the same time frame.

Maximize My Social Security’s web-based service costs $40 per year for a household, while Social Security Solutions offers several levels of web-based and personalized phone advice ranging from $20 to $250.

In-person advice

You may also be able to get help through a financial planner. Look for someone who is a fee-only certified financial planner who charges on an hourly basis and has experience in Social Security analysis.

To find someone, use the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors online directory at NAPFA.org or try the Garrett Planning Network (GarrettPlanning Network.com), a network of fee-only advisers that charge between $150 and $300 per hour.


Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.


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