The Social Security Administration received some bad press recently. The Office of Inspector General released a report outlining recent findings that “9,224 widow and widower beneficiaries age 70 and above were underpaid approximately $131.8 million,” according to CNBC. The SSA failed to notify these individuals that they could take a survival benefit and suspend their own, allowing their benefits to increase with time. Instead, those affected were under the impression that they would have to start taking all of their benefits and lose out on the financial incentives of suspending them.
Top 4 Social Security Mistakes
Relying on Social Security to Answer Your Questions
If you’ve ever tried to call the SSA with a question about your benefits, it’s likely that you weren’t satisfied with your answer. People who work at the SSA are not allowed to give you advice on how you should fill out forms or what’s the best course of action to maximize your benefits. You will need to speak with a financial professional who understands the rules and has experience with how to file.
Taking Retirement Early
Taking retirement too early is a tragedy that should be avoided at all costs. There are many factors that contribute to when to file your Social Security: income, spousal benefits, investments and life expectancy to name a few. Prevent making a mistake by knowing the outcome of every different scenario before deciding on course of action. We all qualify for Social Security, but there are more than 80 different ways that a married couple can file.
Ignoring a Missed Payment
If you miss a Social Security payment, don’t let it go, assume the office made a simple mistake, or chalk it up to bad luck. When SS payments go missing, there’s a chance you’ve been a victim of identity theft. If so, it’s important to move quickly.
Misunderstanding Spouse Benefits
Divorced widows and widowers can still qualify for a benefit under their deceased ex’s Social Security. In order to qualify, they must have been married for at least 10 years and not remarried, and be born before Jan. 1, 1954.
Good Social Security Advice
Use a Retirement Calculator
There are many different kinds of calculators available online to help you get an idea of how much Social Security you can expect in benefits and what other kinds of savings you need for retirement. Start with the Retirement Estimator at the Social Security Administration to get an idea of what benefits you’ve earned.
Talk to a Financial Planner
A financial planner brings an outside perspective to your finances and has experience helping other people through retirement and other life stages. Meeting with a financial planner to go over your options is a smart idea, even if you are confident that you’ve done all you can to save for retirement. Financial planners see all kinds of different personal situations and will have insight that can help you.
At the end of the day, it’s always better to defer to an expert. This is especially true when making a bad decision could be the difference between a comfortable retirement and struggling every month for the rest of your life. The best advice for applying for Social Security is to actually sit down and compare what your benefits would be in every situation for which you qualify.
Matthew D. Klein is a financial advisor with Copley Financial Group, Inc. in Great Neck. He specializes in Social Security and retirement planning. He frequently holds educational workshops, presents at speaking events, and publishes a blog at MatthewDavidKlein.com.