The rules can be so convoluted that many people rely on what they’re told by Social Security employees, but that could prove to be an expensive mistake.
Certified financial planner Kate Gregory of Huntington Beach, California, uses sophisticated Social Security claiming software to recommend strategies that maximize clients’ lifetime benefits. Gregory advised one of her clients, a widow, to apply for her own small retirement benefit first so that her survivor benefit could grow, then switch to the larger benefit later. When the woman contacted Social Security, however, she was told she could get the survivor benefit only.
“That left her really flustered,” Gregory says.
The widow eventually was able to get the benefits she’s entitled to in the correct order, but Gregory and other financial planners worry about people who don’t get professional advice and who could be led astray.
“Most people are going to say, ‘Well, that’s what the government told me’ and let it drop. And that’s unfortunate,” says CFP Mary Beth Franklin, author of “Maximizing Social Security Retirement Benefits” and a contributing editor for Investment News.
THE COST OF MISTAKES
A lot of money is potentially at stake. The difference between the best-claiming strategies and the worst could add up to $100,000 over the lifetime of a single person and $250,000 for married couples, says William Meyer, CEO of Social Security Solutions, a claiming strategies website.
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