Social Security Secret: How to Add Thousands to Retired Clients’ Incomes

Evensky Katz advisor Brett Horowitz reveals how extra income can be gained by applying little known Social Security Administration rules

Social Security checks being processed. (Photo: AP) Social Security checks being processed. (Photo: AP)

With retirement clients lucky to get a 1% annual percentage yield on their deposits these days, and stock market swings at historic levels of volatility, delivering real value-added to clients is no easy feat.

Yet Brett Horowitz of the well-known wealth management firm Evensky Katz has done just that with research that shows how clients can gain tens of thousands of dollars in extra retirement income by applying little known Social Security Administration rules.

Horowitz (below) has developed an analytical tool that can run hundreds of scenarios to help clients choose the financial outcome most beneficial to them. In a recent presentation to clients of the Coral Gables, Fla.-based firm he detailed two examples that each drop more than $40,000 extra in a retired couple’s laps.

Brett HorowitzIn the first scenario, a husband and wife both have similar earnings but the higher earning husband plans to delay receiving Social Security benefits until he is 70 (thus accruing credit that will boost his monthly income). The wife meanwhile will start taking her Social Security benefits at age 62 (thus receiving less than the full benefit that kicks in at age 66).

Most retirees likely assume the husband in this scenario is prudently delaying his retirement to maximize their retirement income without appreciating that the husband is entitled to claim spousal benefits while continuing to accrue deferral credits.

By filing a “restricted application,” the husband will receive 50% of his wife’s Social Security income for each month he delays claiming his own benefit (but only after his wife turns 66). In Horowitz’s illustration, such a filing entitles the husband to half his wife’s $1,750 a month–or $875 a month during the four years during which the wife is collecting benefits but the husband is not. (This illustration assumes husband and wife are both 66, so there are four years during which he can earn spousal benefits while earning earning deferral credits of his own).

That’s $42,000 in found money. (Of course, these numbers could vary a great deal based on how much Social Security credit a person has accumulated.)

That particular strategy works well when the early-retiring spouse is entitled to a reasonably high income. Horowitz recommends another technique when the retiring spouse is entitled to a low monthly income of, say, $100. In this second scenario–assuming the husband, again, is a high earner delaying retirement till 70 and the wife has reached her full retirement age of 66–the husband should “file and suspend.” That is, he should file for his higher level of benefits but suspend his receipt of the benefits.

This entitles his low-earning wife to claim spousal benefits. If he would be earning $2,000 a month and she $100 a month, she can now claim half his benefits ($1,000) minus her benefit ($100) for a $900 monthly benefit. Under this scenario, the husband continues to earn deferral credits till age 70 while the wife collects an additional $43,200 in additional benefits.

Horowitz warns that the Social Security Administration is more restrictive these days about allowing filing changes so it is imperative that retiring clients think through their strategy before submitting their benefit claims.

Read the follow-up story, Social Security Secret: Advisor's Dogged Pursuit Bears Fruit for Clients at AdvisorOne.

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