My husband and I are in a great debate about when to start collecting Social Security.
I want to delay getting benefits until we are 70. We both reach full retirement age at 67.
“Nope,” my husband says. “I’m going to take it early at 62. Why wait all those years when we could use the money to travel or do whatever we want during our healthier years?”
My husband did a spreadsheet and it showed that while delaying until 70 would net us more money every year, the break-even point — where we would catch up to all the cash we missed out collecting early at 62 — was about 79.
“Tomorrow isn’t promised,” he argues. “There’s no way to tell about our vitality at that age.”
We’ve got some years before we have to decide, but I do see his point. And he sees mine.
The conventional advice about when to take Social Security is try as hard as you can to wait. Don’t take it at 62, many experts say. If you can hold off, don’t even take it at your full retirement age. Delay until you’re 70, and you get more money every month. And since many people are living longer, the extra money might be needed, most likely to pay for health care expenses not covered by Medicare like long-term care assistance.
Many seniors don’t have a choice. The early or late debate is academic to them. They absolutely need the money as soon as they are eligible. But what about folks with enough fixed income and savings cushion that they can afford to wait? They can easily pay the bills and then some. Is there an argument to still take Social Security at 62?
Bill Roberts, of Winston-Salem, N.C., agrees with my husband. Roberts is 81, a “liberal” Republican, who worked 40 years as a librarian and library director. He retired at 63. He’s been married 58 years. “Wife going strong,” he wrote.
Roberts said he’s helped probably more than 100 people on retirement planning.
As he puts it: “I told every person, take your Social Security at 62 or as soon as you can! Every person did.”
Later, he heard from people who took his advice.
“Not one told me I was wrong,” he wrote. “These were all my friends and co-workers. Last week, I asked seven friends at a luncheon, all 70s and early 80s about their Social Security recommendations. All said, “TAKE IT EARLY.”
Don’t skip over the chart that shows the various break-even points associated with claiming at 62, 66 or 70 for someone who is set to receive $1,000 at their full retirement age of 66.
In writing for The Motley Fool, Todd Campbell says, “At first blush, the extra amount that can be received by waiting to claim until 70 appears to make waiting the smartest decision. However, it’s important to remember that the amount that is paid out in benefits over a lifetime is calculated to be the same, regardless of what age you claim.”
He continues, “Therefore, delaying when you claim until 70 may produce bigger checks than claiming early, but it also results in the typical recipient collecting fewer checks in their lifetime than if they claimed early. Obviously, if you have longevity in your family tree, waiting could allow you to come out ahead, but assuming the average person’s life expectancy, collecting more, smaller checks might be best, especially if you can invest some of that money.”
Here’s an analysis from Fidelity Investments: Should you take Social Security at 62?
Fidelity addresses a lot of issues you should consider. Two key points the financial company makes:
— If you claim early at 62, rather than waiting until your full retirement age, there’s up to a 30 percent reduction in your monthly benefit.
— Every year you delay beyond your full retirement age up to 70, you get an 8 percent increase in your benefit.
What’s your experience? I’d like to hear from folks who could afford to wait but took Social Security early. Do you feel it was the right decision? Any regrets or advice?
If you waited until your full retirement age or 70, do you regret the delay?
Send your comments to email@example.com.
Retirement rants and raves
I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”
Two readers weighed in on health care in retirement.
“My husband retired two years ago [from the federal government] after 20 years of service,” Beatrice Dermer wrote. “What really made it possible was that we could continue to access his health insurance, paying only the employee portion of the premium. We still have a family plan and our children (now age 25 and 22) are still on our plan. It eases the worries of the gap year you wrote about. You’ll be pleased to know we have paid off our house and our children have no student debt. The peace of mind is priceless!”
Read this: When Health Plans Aren’t Required to Cover Adult Children: Although the health-reform law requires most insurance plans to extend coverage to adult children until age 26, the rule doesn’t apply to retiree-only plans.
Margaret wrote that her biggest beef in retirement is the health care gap years between retirement and when they qualify for Medicare.
“We saved well,” she wrote. “We have a pension. We have no debt. Our BIGGEST worry was how to keep continuous health coverage. Can you cover the ‘gap’ years between retirement and Medicare?’ That was tough AND scary. We made it by a whisker when I was laid off from a tech job. I was lucky. COBRA covered the gap until I was eligible at 62 for my previous employer’s retirement health plan. This is NOT a bargain. We pay $20,000 a year to maintain health coverage. But we are lucky we can. This is a working ‘hole’ trap that easily could have left me desperately scrambling for a job that provided health care when I had enough money to retire through planning and prudence. Enough cannot be said for coverage of preexisting conditions and age. Even had we been able to find new plans absent employment, we are walking preexisting conditions in our early 60s. Most of us baby boomers do not realize until too late how health care will limit our retirement options. My plea is that you educate folks. Together as a voting bloc we may be able to effect change for others.”
Newsletter comments policy
Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict).
Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to email@example.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more Color of Money columns, go here.
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