THINKING RETIREMENT – ANDY LANDISSocial Security’s main highways are the basic benefits for Worker and Spouse.  Most people take the earliest onramp at 62, but you’ll get more per month—and possibly more total lifetime payout—by waiting until Full Retirement Age (FRA, currently 66), or even until 70 for Worker payments.

Byways – There are several lesser-known Social Security byways:

  • Divorced spouse benefits, if married to a worker at least 10 years.
  • Payments for an eligible worker’s child.
  • Disability payments for a worker, widow(er), or adult child.
  • Survivor payments for a deceased worker’s widow(er) and child.Explore these alternate routes for possibly higher payments.

Off-road excursions – There are at least three “roads less traveled” that could benefit you:

  • U-turn (withdraw, repay, and refile).  You can “undo” your claim and return to your starting point by withdrawing your claim and repaying all benefits. A U-turn can correct a mistake, like filing on the wrong record or too early.  A more intriguing use is to “purchase” higher Social Security payments.  After you withdraw and repay, you can refile your claim.  Since you’re now older, your payments are higher. So paying back the benefits is like “investing” in a higher Social Security payment, something like purchasing an immediate annuity. Withdrawal rules are in flux.  Check with SSA to see if you can withdraw after the first 12 months of payments.
  • Red light, green light (suspend payments).  You can suspend any or all payments from FRA to age 70.  There are three advantages:

Your payments grow while suspended.

Your spouse can get spousal payments on your work record, even while suspended.

You can later choose to receive the suspended payments

For example, suppose Bill could get $2,000 per month at 66.  He plans to wait until age 70, to get 32% more–$2640 per month.  Sure he can wait.  But if he files at 66 and suspends his payments, his spouse Molly, also 66, can get spousal payments of $1,000 per month on the suspended record.  That’s $48,000 they would have missed out on, had he waited until age 70 to file.

  • Dualie Detour (spouse-only or widow-only payments).  You’re a “dualie if you’re dually eligible—as a worker and as a divorced spouse, for example.  That allows you detour to another payment type, later returning to the main highway. For example, if you’re a dualie who first files at FRA, you can choose to claim only your spousal benefits, holding your own payments in reserve.  (Widow(er)s can do so as early as age 60.)  Your own payments increase even while you receive the spousal or widow(er) benefits.  Taking this detour brings in some Social Security until your own payments hit the jackpot—the 132% payments at age 70.  An example yielding a $60,000 “bonus” appears here

Learn more in two steps:

  1. Set up your “My Social Security” account
  2. Input your data into one or more free online calculators—find them by searching for Social Security calculators by AARP, Financial Engines, T. Rowe Price, or others.  Or try the for-pay Social Security Choices service by fellow RetireMentor, Dr. Jeffrey Miller.All these byways are detailed in my book  This is a quick introduction.  Always consult SSA for official route information.  READ MORE HERE.

And as always, keep on planning.

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