One of the biggest Social Security mistakes I see people make is claim their benefits too early.
According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 60% of seniors are applying for social security benefits before full retirement age.
If you turned 62 last year, your full retirement age will be 66 years and six months. Full retirement age will continue to increase in two-month increments each year until it reaches 67.
Even though you’re eligible to start claiming benefits at 62, it’s ill-advised. Monthly payments are reduced by 25-30% if you claim at 62, depending on your birth year.
In theory, claiming Social Security benefits should be straightforward — after working several decades, fill out an application and get a monthly benefit check for the rest of your life.
But, you and I know it’s not that easy. There are strategies to consider if you want to maximize your benefits, and there are several mistakes that could cost you thousands of dollars over the course of your retirement if you’re not careful.
Here are just a few mistakes I see people make that could easily be avoided.
Mistake #1 – Claiming Benefits Too Early
I already explained why this is not advised for most retirees. But if you already chose to claim benefits early and now are second-guessing your decision, there are some recourse steps you can take.
Specifically, you are allowed to withdraw your Social Security application and re-claim benefits at a later date, but two conditions apply.
First, you must withdraw your application within the first 12 months of receiving benefits. And second, you have to pay back every cent of benefits you’ve already received. Which can be a lot of money if you weren’t planning on withdrawing.
This is why you should be certain. There are some perfectly good reasons for claiming benefits before your full retirement age, but it’s important to weigh all your options before you make moves.
Mistake #2 – Not Understanding the “Earnings Test”
If you’re still working and haven’t yet reached full retirement age, your benefits can be withheld based on your earnings.
Here are the two “earnings test” rules for 2019:
- If you will reach full retirement age after 2019, $1 of your benefits will be withheld for every $2 you earn in excess of $17,640.
- If you will reach full retirement age during 2019, $1 of your benefits will be withheld for every $3 you earn in excess of $45,920. This is prorated monthly, and only the months before your birthday month are counted.
To be clear, benefits withheld under the earnings test aren’t necessarily lost. They can be returned in the form of increased benefits once you reach full retirement age.
People who think they can be fully employed and collect their Social Security benefits are often caught off guard when the Social Security office tells them they made too much money and have to repay some of the benefits.
Once you reach full retirement age, you can earn as much as you’d like with no reduction in benefits.
Mistake #3 – Assuming Social Security Is All the Retirement Income You Need
23% of married couples age 65 and older and 43% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income. Not only is this unsustainable, it’s not how Social Security was designed. The original intent was that Social Security would account for about half of your retirement income.