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Posted: July 20, 2011

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Deciding when to take Social Security

Julie Stone

One of the few things you can control about Social Security is when to start collecting it. Should you take it when you become eligible at age 62, wait until "normal" retirement age (a function of your birth date) or consider delaying your benefits past normal retirement age?

To help you make this decision, consider that, on average, Americans are living longer than ever before. Clearly, the longer you expect to live, the more sense it makes to delay taking Social Security. But of course, each person's circumstances and needs are different-here's a look at how timing can affect the benefits you receive.

Early Benefits. The soonest you can collect Social Security is age 62. But taking payments at 62 will result in a permanently reduced benefit, ranging from a 20 percent reduction for people born in 1937 up to 30 percent for those born in 1960 or later. You may want to consider early benefits if you need income but prefer to leave your portfolio intact, or if you intend to invest the benefits to try to earn a more competitive return (though there's no guarantee you will do so).

Full Benefits. Eligibility for full Social Security benefits varies according to the year you were born. Depending on how long you worked and how much you earned over your lifetime, the maximum benefit you could collect at normal retirement age (65 years and 10 months) is $2,185 per month in 2008. Consider waiting for full benefits if you plan to work until age 65, if you want to ensure a larger survivor's benefit for your spouse or if family history and good health may lead to an above-average life expectancy. Refer to the Social Security Web site (http://www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/quickcalc/when2retire.html) to calculate your "breakeven" age, when the accumulated value of higher benefits from postponing retirement will start to exceed the value of lower benefits from choosing early retirement.

Delayed Benefits. If you continue working beyond your normal retirement age, you will be eligible to collect a permanently increased Social Security benefit when you do retire. Approximately 8 percent more per year will be added automatically to the permanent benefit amount for every year you wait. Delaying benefits past age 70 will generally add nothing more to your monthly benefit.

To help assess your situation, refer to your personalized Social Security Statement, which estimates the monthly Social Security benefits you may qualify for (go to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement for a copy of your statement). You may also wish to enlist the help of a financial professional to crunch some numbers and determine what sort of timing would best support the retirement you envision.
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Julie Stone, CIMA® is a Financial Advisor with the Global Wealth Management Division of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Denver and has been building solid portfolios for over 22 years. Julie may be reached at 303 572 4878 or julie.stone@morganstanleysmithbarney.com.

The information contained in this article is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment advice. The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors as the appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor's individual circumstances and objectives. Investing involves risks and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, Member SIPC, or its affiliates.

 

 

Julie Stone, CIMA is a vice president and senior investment management consultant at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Denver. She has been building solid portfolios for over 22 years.

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