Get the most from Social Security benefits

Have you missed your annual Social Security benefit statement since mailings stopped back in 2011? If so, I’ve got good news for you. The folks at Social Security have decided to start sending out paper copies again.

It’s not exactly like it used to be. If you’re younger than 60, you’ll only get statements at five-year intervals. And if you’ve set up an online “my Social Security” account, you still won’t get the statement in the mail. Those 60 or older will continue to get annual statements.   

The return of the statements is a great thing, because it may get you thinking about Social Security and your overall retirement plan. Here are four things to consider:  

  • Get your statement anytime at ssa.gov. It’s a quick, easy way to see where you stand without waiting for the information in the mail. You can verify your earnings, review projected retirement benefits and check survivor benefits. 
  • Stake out a strategy. Your health and that of your spouse, earnings history and income requirements all play roles in deciding when you should begin collecting Social Security benefits. They also affect how you can make the most of them. Don’t start taking benefits at 62 just because you can. Instead, map out a plan. If concepts such as file-and-suspend, delayed retirement credits and maximizing survivor benefits are alien to you, it may be time to sit down with a financial planner.
  • It may pay to delay. Social Security can play an important role for a surviving spouse. The paper statement or online account will let you know how much your spouse might receive. By waiting, you can receive delayed retirement credits that will bump up your Social Security benefits – and those of a surviving spouse – roughly 8 percent per year between your normal retirement age and 70. That may affect your strategy.
  • More means less. According to the Social Security website, the retirement benefits are designed to replace 40 percent of income for people with “average earnings.” The more you earn, the lower the percentage of your income Social Security will replace. What’s your plan for making up the rest of what you need?

As you draw up your 2015 to-do list, include a thorough review of how you’re going to make the most of your Social Security benefits. 

J.J. Montanaro is a certified financial planner with USAA, The American Legion’s preferred provider of financial services. Submit questions for him online.

www.legion.org/usaa/focusonfinances