Individuals tend to claim their social security benefits early. In fact, age 62 has always been the most popular claiming age. As a financial professional, you have contributed to a gradual rise in the average claiming age by educating your clients on strategies to maximize benefits. Prior to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, it was easy for you to show clients that strategies like “file and suspend” gave them more cumulative benefits if they were to live to normal life expectancy. Further, demonstrating to clients that they only needed to make it to their late 70s for the delayed benefits strategy to make sense was a compelling argument.
But last year’s legislation, by eliminating the popular file-and-suspend strategy, created a new social security conversation. After spending months modeling client scenarios under the new rules, I would argue that the old assumption that waiting to claim is best may need further discussion.
A Typical Client Scenario
Let’s look at an example to illustrate this point:
James and Tina are both turning 66 on September 1, 2016. They have full retirement age benefits of $2,600 and $500, respectively. Inflation and life expectancy assumptions are 2 percent and 88 years, respectively.
The claiming strategy that will give them the most cumulative benefits out of the system is a delayed benefits strategy.
- Tina claims her benefits at age 66 ($500).
- James files a restricted application for spousal benefits only at age 66 ($250).
- James switches to his benefits at age 70 ($3,715).
- Tina switches to spousal benefits at age 70 ($1,407).
Over the next four years, they will receive a combined $750 per month. Once they both turn age 70, their benefits will increase significantly to $5,122 per month.
Alternatively, what if James had filed at 66 and Tina immediately claimed spousal benefits? Under this scenario they would have received $3,900 per month over the next four years. What’s most important in this comparison is the crossover point where the delayed strategy catches up. If you were to spreadsheet the numbers, you would see the crossover point is age 83 and 5 months for both spouses.
The New Conversation
In my view, a crossover age of 83 and 5 months changes the conversation with the client. The picture is a lot less clear than it was prior to the rule changes. Specifically, risk, longevity, and quality of life need to be discussed. I suggest that you lay out both options and discuss the pros and cons of each.
Under a delayed benefits strategy, it’s clear that the major benefit is that the clients will receive more from the social security system if they live to normal life expectancy. There is a real risk, however, that one or both spouses may not live that long. If clients have a family history of poor longevity, though, claiming at full retirement age may be the better decision.
Under a full retirement age strategy, using our example above, the major benefit is that the clients will have an additional $37,800 per year between ages 66 and 70 than they would by having Tina claim her benefit and James delay his. Some clients believe that they will slow down as they age and that having a larger income in their 60s could provide cash flow to accomplish goals while they are more physically capable. On the other hand, you may have clients who do not feel strongly about having extra discretionary income in their golden years, having already spent their younger years traveling and experiencing other life events.