Savvy Senior: Plenty of Social Security help for those nearing retirement

Special to the HeraldAugust 9, 2011 

Can you recommend some good resources that can help me decide when to start my Social Security retirement benefits?

I’ll be 62 early next year and want to carefully weigh all my options, but could use some help.

-- Nearing Retirement

Figuring out the best age to start claiming your Social Security retirement benefits is an important financial decision.

The difference between a good decision and a poor one could cost you tens of thousands of dollars over your retirement, so doing some homework and weighing your options now is a very smart move.

What to consider

As you may already know, you can claim Social Security any time from age 62 to 70, but the longer you wait, the larger your monthly check. But there are actually many factors you need to take into account to help you make a good decision, including your current financial needs, your health and family longevity, whether you plan to work in retirement, whether you have other retirement income sources, and if you’re married, your spouse’s situation.

To help you compare your options and make an informed decision, there are a number of resources and services available depending on how much assistance you need.

SSA Tools

A good place to start is at the Social Security website. Just go to socialsecurity.gov and click on the “Retirement” tab at the top of the page and access their “Plan for Retirement” tools, where you can estimate your benefits at different ages and get guidance based on your personal situation.

Or if you would rather have face-to-face assistance, call 800-772-1213 and schedule an appointment to visit with a claims representative at your nearby Social Security office.

The Social Security Administration also offers a bevy of free publications (see ssa.gov/pubs) that you can have mailed directly to you. “Retirement Benefits,” “When To Start Receiving Retirement Benefits” and “How Work Affects Your Benefits” are three popular publications for those nearing retirement.

Other resources

If you need help in addition to what the government offers, some good resources include the “Social Security Claiming Guide,” which is published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. This easy-to-read 24-page guide sorts through all the options, spells out how much you can get, and answers frequently asked questions. Go to socialsecurityclaimingguide.info to read it online or to print a copy for free.

Another good publication is “When to Take Social Security Benefits: Questions to Consider” (see whentotakesocialsecurity.info). Offered by the National Academy of Social Insurance, a nonprofit research and educational group, this 16-page booklet uses a question-and-answer format to guide you through the key issues. To get a free hardcopy mailed to you, call 202-452-8097.

You can also get help online at websites like analyzenow.com, which offers a free tool called “Social Security Planner” that helps singles and couples calculate the best time to take their retirement benefits. And AARP’s new Social Security Benefits Calculator (www.aarp.org/socialsecuritybenefits), which lets you estimate how much you’ll receive in monthly and lifetime benefits, based on your salary and your age when you file.

Or, for a $40 annual fee, maximizemysocialsecurity.com provides a comprehensive new tool to help retirees, spouses and survivors make decisions to maximize their benefits.

If, however, you’d like more personalized help, there are financial advisors and investment advisor firms that for a fee can assist you by taking you through the specific claiming strategies. One such firm is Social Security Solutions (socialsecuritysolutions.com, 866-762-7526), which offers three levels of service, including their “Premium Plus” plan that runs multiple calculations and comparisons, recommends a best course of action in a detailed report, and gives you a one-on-one session with a Social Security specialist over the phone to discuss the report and ask questions. Fees for their services range between $20 and $125.

Jim Miller, a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book, can be reached at Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org

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