212: When Should I Claim Social Security?

With retirement on the horizon for many listeners, they tackle the pressing question: When should I claim Social Security benefits? Josh and Austin break down the factors that influence this decision, including age, life expectancy, financial needs, and spousal benefits. They explore the advantages and disadvantages of claiming early, at full retirement age, or delaying until later.

 

Main Talking Points

[1:56] – What Factors Play Into Social Security Decisions?
[9:07] – When You Claim Social Security Matters: Here’s Why.
[13:26] – Dad Joke of the Week
[14:17] – Why Wait or Why Claim Social Security Early?
[19:54] – When Should I Claim Social Security?

 

Links & Resources

Full Transcript

Welcome to The Invested Dads Podcast, simplifying financial topics so that you can take action and make your financial situation better. Helping you to understand the current world of financial planning and investments, here are your hosts, Josh Robb and Austin Wilson.

Austin Wilson:

All right. Hey, hey, hey. Welcome back to the Invested Dads Podcast, a podcast where we take you on a journey to better your financial future. I’m Austin Wilson, Co-Portfolio Manager at Hixon Zuercher Capital Management.

Josh Robb:

And I’m Josh Robb, Director of Wealth Management at Hixon Zuercher Capital Management. Austin, how can people help us with our podcast?

Austin Wilson:

Please subscribe if you’re not subscribed already. So hit that plus, or follow, or whatever button allows you to get our new episodes when they drop. We’d also love it if you’d leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, both of those things completely free. They don’t cost you anything, but they really help us out. So go ahead and do that. And just remember, if you have any questions, you can either email us at hello@theinvesteddads.com or go through our website and get ahold of us via the website as well. So today, we are going to be talking about my personal favorite discussion in the entire financial world.

Josh Robb:

Every day you come in and say, “Let’s talk.”

Austin Wilson:

I’m always wanted to talk about things like Social Security.

Josh Robb:

Social Security, yes.

Austin Wilson:

So really, today we’re going to be honing in and giving you the answer of when the best time, the definitive answer, to claim Social Security is. The answer might surprise you. It depends.

Josh Robb:

We did do a whole episode talking about Social Security. We’ll link that in the show notes, but it was more of the history and how it got started and what it is. Today we’re really going to focus on claiming because there’s a range from when age 62 is the earliest you can claim it, age 70 is the latest you can claim it, and that’s eight years in there, to do a claim on any point, any day within that range. And we’re going to just talk about the benefits of claiming early versus late, waiting to claim, all right?

 

[1:56] – What Factors Play into Your Social Security? 

Josh Robb:

So, to get in there, the first thing we’re going to talk about is understanding the impact and what factors go into that decision for claiming. So, there’s really three things that go into determining the amount you’ll get when you claim. The first is your earnings history. I’m going to talk a little bit about how they calculate that. The second one is, what is considered by Social Security to be your full retirement age? Well, you would say, “Well, whenever I retire, that’s my full retirement age.” Well, they have their own calculations, and they have an actual date for each person on when they determine or decide is your full retirement age for Social Security.

Austin Wilson:

And heads up, it changes over time.

Josh Robb:

It’s been moving and it may continue to move up.

Austin Wilson:

It likely will.

Josh Robb:

And then the last one is, what age do you actually claim Social Security? So those three factors, your work history, your full retirement age by Social Security, and then the actual age you claim all go together to then determine the dollar amount you’re going to receive from Social Security going forward. So let’s talk through this. The first one, your earnings history, all right? So every year the Social Security Administration gets your work history for the prior year, sometime January-ish. And what happens is they get sent your W2 or your income, whether you’re self-employed, 1099, it doesn’t matter, they get your work income from the prior year and they add that to their little table and they then take your top 35 years within your work history.

And so when you start early on, year one and two and three, that starts building your history. If you work and retire after 30 years and you don’t get the full, they actually add zeros for those to get up to 35. So not filling the 35 years actually has an impact on the calculation, because you get zeros. It doesn’t like they just take it out at 30. They still use a 35-year calculation, and you get zeros. So, it actually brings your average down. But it’s your average earning. You are encouraged to periodically review that to make sure they didn’t make a mistake, because surprise, sometimes the government organization makes a mistake in calculating your data and all that.

But that is how they first get your earnings history. It is adjusted for inflation. They have their own calculation, because if you say, “Well, when I’m ready to retire, my first earning history, I may have earned $20,000, but what’s that equivalent to today?” And so it is an adjustment so that they do run this calculation. They take that, divide it by their formula, and that’s what’s called your primary insurance amount. And that is a weird word, because what’s this insurance thing? But that’s their default calculation on your earnings history dollar amount. And your primary insurance amount then is taken and your full amount is your primary insurance amount at your full retirement age.

And your full retirement age, like we said, is a moving number based on the year you were born. So, if you were born in 1954 or earlier, so 1953, 1952, that direction, you have a full retirement age of 66 years old.

Austin Wilson:

66 years old.

Josh Robb:

Yep. Full retirement age then moves the other direction. So, starting in 1954 and later it goes all the way up to age 67. So, it starts at 66 and then it goes to 67. Anybody born after 1960, therefore retirement age at this point is 67 years old.

Austin Wilson:

So ’68, if you were born in the middle of ’54 and ’60, that would be at the six-year gap. So if it’s ’57, it’d be 66-and-a-half.

Josh Robb:

Or 66 and four months or 66 and… They just walk their way up. And the whole reason they’re doing that is they didn’t want a big cliff from one to another, so they slowly moved it from 66 to 67, is all they did over that six-year period. And so it was every two months it did a jump is how they did it. And the idea there is just they’re slowly moving your full retirement age later because people are living longer. They just look at the overall US population and the working population and say, “Where is that point where,” one, they’re going to get that 35 years of work history in? And two, they’re at a point where they’re going to probably need some income to help supplement retirement. And so that’s where they came up with that 67. And they’re just slowly moving it later because you’re living longer.

Austin Wilson:

So that’s my next question, we asked, so full retirement age is 67 now. It’s unlikely to be 67 when you and I retire.

Josh Robb:

Probably not. They’ll probably move it later.

Austin Wilson:

68, 69.

Josh Robb:

Yeah, and at some point they’re going to actually have to start moving the range, because as they move your full retirement to the back end of that range, it just becomes, and you’ll see as we talk about it, a harder way to determine your best claiming point. Because at some point if the full retirement age gets to 70, being that’s the last you can claim, there is no benefit of waiting. There is no waiting anymore. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see them move that range. That 62 starting point may move up to 63, 64, 65 and then the back end moves from 70 maybe to 75. And so they’re going to move the whole range as well over time. And that’s not a bad thing. People are just living longer.

If you go back and listen to our Social Security episode, we talk about that. When they started Social Security, your life expectancy was right in that range. They weren’t expecting a 30-year payout of Social Security. That’s not what it was originally designed for. So that’s why there is some pressure on it right now.

Austin Wilson:

And we also talked about in the last episode where we talked about Social Security, it wasn’t necessarily designed to be a sole retirement income for people, which is what many people use it for today.

Josh Robb:

Yeah, it was created as a safety net that if, worst-case scenario, things happen in your life that you had to stop working and you didn’t save up on your own, you could at least provide the basics of living. You were not going to be in abject poverty. But some people look at Social Security as that sole piece and it really was not designed for that.

Austin Wilson:

It’s not going to go very far.

Josh Robb:

No. So you have your primary insurance amount, which is the calculation they have based on your earning history. You have your full retirement age as also calculated by Social Security. So those two things are calculated by them. And then the last piece of it is when you actually decide to submit a claim to start. You get to choose that age. And again, you have from 62 to age 70, you can pick a day in that range. And those three factors will then determine your actual payout amount.

Austin Wilson:

For the rest of your life.

Josh Robb:

For the rest of your life. There are a couple caveats to that and we’re not going to get into a lot of detail here, but you can undo it. Certain time periods, you can do a one-time undo, another one, you can do a pause and restart. But all intents and purposes, once you start it, you’re claiming and that’s it for the rest of your time.

Austin Wilson:

And that percentage would then be the… so if like-

Josh Robb:

Whatever your payout is, is that going forward.

Austin Wilson:

If you claim earlier, you’re stuck getting the lower payout, which it’ll adjust for inflation as well, but you’re stuck getting that lower payout for the rest of the time.

 

[9:07] – When You Claim Social Security Matters: Here’s Why. 

Josh Robb:

Yep. So, let’s now talk about why would somebody claim early or later, and let’s look at what the impact would be on your payout based on when you claim. So when you think about that, you can claim as early as 62. If you claim before your full retirement age, again, we’re going to say somewhere between 66, 67, most people now heading into retirement, it will be 67. So we’ll just use that as our base point. So, if you claim before 67, your full retirement age, they reduce your benefit by a factor as a incentive to wait. You can still do it, but it’ll cost you something, is how Social Security sets it up, all right?

And then on the other hand, if you wait ’til after your full retirement age, so from 67 to 70, those three years, they give you an increase on this calculation as a motivation for waiting. Because again, the longer Social Security can hold that money, because it’s a big pool, right, people are paying in, everybody working every year pays into Social Security, and ideally, the concept is all that’s coming in is enough to pay out to the people claiming it.

Austin Wilson:

That’s the concept. We know it runs in the wrong direction.

Josh Robb:

It does. And a couple reasons, one is we’ve had some population come through, so the baby boomers is an example of that, where you had a lot of kids. And that was great. While they were working, Social Security was doing well. As they’re retiring, the next generation, not so big. And so the problem is one, they’re living longer, so they’re taking Social Security longer. And two, the generations behind them aren’t big enough to fill in the supplement.

Austin Wilson:

Another factor of that is just how it’s being invested, which the government-

Josh Robb:

There’re some limitations on what they can and can’t do.

Austin Wilson:

The government can’t be super-efficient at the way that they’re investing this. They’re not going into the S&P 500 with all of your Social Security.

Josh Robb:

Well, they’re not really allowed to take risks.

Austin Wilson:

Which, if they did, they would be smoking it. They’ve been investing in bonds and stuff like that right now, very low return. So that’s why the running discussion is, well, if I didn’t pay into Social Security, I could have greatly outperformed the money I put into Social Security by investing in the market. Well, yeah, but that’s not how it works.

Josh Robb:

Yep. So I mentioned it goes up and down either direction. On the upside, every month you wait past your full retirement age, you get 0.67% per month of an increase. Well, you say, “Well, that’s hardly anything. What’s the point?” That actually amounts to about an 8% annual increase. So you get an 8% growth on your Social Security for every year you wait for those three years. That is awesome. So I’ll do a quick breakdown of those percentages going up and down.

So again, 67 is your full retirement age. If you claimed the earliest possible point at age 62, you would only get 70% of that amount. So you lose 30% of your Social Security. That’s the incentive from Social Security to wait. They’re trying to discourage you, but some people need to do it. And as we’ll talk about near the end, there are some reasons why you’d go that direction.

The other way you could get up to 124% because eight for those three years, 8% for those three years of your full retirement age amount. So you could lose 30% of what your full retirement age amount would be, or you could get another 24% if you wait those additional three years. So it’s nice to see how that works and anywhere in between. So how that works is very simple. You can always run in Social Security’s website. They have some calculators. You can say, “What if I do this or that?” And some of their assumptions, you just got to make sure you plug in correctly, they assume in most calculators your current income will continue until you stop, which is a good safe assumption.

But for some people, they may stop working at 62, have no more income and then wait until 67. You just got to make sure you factor that in right to see what your projected amount would be. But in general you could see what that is. It’s not like it’s a surprise when you claim. You could call, you could schedule an appointment or you could go onto their website and you could get that answer in just about any situation you want to see. So you can always find out, but the question becomes, what one makes the most sense? And that’s what we’re going to talk about after the dad joke.

 

[13:26] – Dad Joke of the Week 

Austin Wilson:

Dad joke of the week, Josh, got one here for you.

Josh Robb:

I’m ready.

Austin Wilson:

What do you call an illegally parked frog?

Josh Robb:

Ooh, I don’t know.

Austin Wilson:

Toad.

Josh Robb:

Toad.

Austin Wilson:

Toad. I got another one for you.

Josh Robb:

Yes, I like that one.

Austin Wilson:

What do you get from a pampered cow?

Josh Robb:

A pampered cow? I don’t know. What do you get? Spoiled milk?

Austin Wilson:

Spoiled milk. That’s right. And I am notorious for sending my wife reels on Instagram of cute cows. They make miniature cows. So there’s baby cows, calves, which are just-

Josh Robb:

But they’re bred to be tiny, little things.

Austin Wilson:

Yeah, so there’s normal cows that are babies that just grow up to be cows, normal size cows. But there are actually miniature cows. And I send my wife a reel of a miniature cow at least once a week because I want one really bad. They’re cute.

Josh Robb:

You know what you call a cow without legs?

Austin Wilson:

Yeah, ground beef.

Josh Robb:

Yeah, ground beef. All right.

 

[14:17] – Why Wait or Why Claim Social Security Early? 

Austin Wilson:

So yeah, the question then becomes, as we talked about, Josh, you get more dollars, but let’s talk about the incentive of waiting to claim that Social Security.

Josh Robb:

All right, so why wait or why claim early?

Austin Wilson:

The question that I’m going to get to here before too long is, how do we typically, now, it’s different for every situation, but how would we typically recommend a client? So let’s get to that. That’s going to be the question we’re going to answer.

Josh Robb:

Yeah, we will get to that and we will answer that. So let me give you some actual data. So we’ll link in the show notes, Yahoo actually had an article from their finance section about the averages. So the last month they actually have data, this would be December 2022. It’s always trailing data from this. But December 2022, the average benefit for a 70-year-old was $1,963.48. The average benefit of a 62-year-old, so that’s each end of this claiming, was $1,274.87. Doesn’t mean anything because that’s their age. Who knows when they actually claimed it? So that 70-year-old that reported this, where they got the data, they could have actually started at 62, but now they’re 70. So pull out the data and we’re actually going to look.

The average 70-year-old who claimed Social Security at 70, so in 2022, the people who claimed their first time at 70 years old, their average monthly benefit was $3,027. So that’s important. That’s 50% more than the average I just told you. And then the average 62-year-old that claimed in 2022, their benefit was $1,287.61. I want to compare those two because these are people that claimed at the same time, two different age groups. So one had $3,027, the other had $1,287.16. If you make that annual, there’s a difference between those two people of $20,873.

Austin Wilson:

That’s a big difference.

Josh Robb:

So the difference claiming or waiting was almost $21,000 a year. And so now that it becomes, all right, is it great? Is it good? Should everybody just wait to get that extra $21,000? Why would I not? And so the things you got to factor in is what did they do between 62 and 70 to wait? And there’s some things you can do, all right? So one of which is income, is I can earn income along the way when I have not claimed Social Security. There’s no limit. I can earn whatever I want. So one option is I continue to work longer and every year I work, one, I’m adding to my 35 years of history, and two, I’m not drawing from anything. So that’s a great strategy.

Not everybody has that option. Maybe because of your physical limitations, health issues, maybe you got to take care of a family member, you can’t work. But if you’re able to, working every year you wait gives you that benefit. Yes.

Austin Wilson:

That’s usually the case when it comes to financial projections, right. Working longer is always going to look better on paper. It’s not always practical.

Josh Robb:

Now, if you do claim early, you actually are limited on income. We talked about this in the Social Security episode, but if you make more than $22,320, which is a weird number, but just $22,000, they deduct $1 for every $2 above that. So your Social Security goes down by a dollar for every $2 you earn above that $22,000. So in other words, if you plan on claiming early before your full retirement age, you got to factor in that I cannot work at least above that $20,000 a year. And so that does limit you for additional income. So if you’re getting a reduced Social Security benefit, you also can’t supplement that reduction with earned income above that $20,000.

Austin Wilson:

And that’s the key word you used there. It’s earned income that counts. So this is not income coming out of you IRA. This is earned income, like a W2, 1099.

Josh Robb:

Yes, I have a job and I get paid for it. All right, so income is an option. The second option is between claiming early and waiting is I use other assets. So I have a retirement account, I have investments, I have a pension or something that’s going to provide me with what I need while I wait and let that grow. And then the third factor is, is it worth waiting? Because every year I wait, that’s money I could have got that Social Security is waiting to pay me. Now, they’re going to give me a higher amount later, but how long do I actually have to wait for that to pay off? And I’m going to tell you, we’ve done the calculations, on average, you got to live into your early 80s, 80 to 84 for that waiting to actually give you more money, if you look at the total amount they pay you.

So if we go back to that one, I’m getting $1,200, almost $1,300 a month if I claim at 62. Well, every month I’m getting $1,300. And so how many years will that additional amount need to be paid out before it catches up to all those missed years? And so it’s 80s. You got to live into your 80s. So you look at my history, do I have longevity in my family? How do I feel? Do I have any health issues I’m aware of? And so those are the things you factor in. The end result is to answer your question, what do we advise, it depends. Oh, man, who knew that?

Austin Wilson:

Never heard that before.

 

[19:54] – When Should I Claim Social Security? 

Josh Robb:

In general, if you have income, do not claim Social Security. That’s pretty much the straight answers for everybody.

Austin Wilson:

It really handcuffs you.

Josh Robb:

Yes. Because one, if you’re before your full retirement age, your income actually hurts your payout. And then two, if you have income and it’s enough to cover your needs, you get that 8% growth, wait. If you don’t have income and you have assets around, it then becomes just a calculation of how much am I going to withdraw versus how much am I going to gain? And you’re going to look at that trade off because inheritance is a factor, all those things because Social Security stops when you pass away. Assets can be passed on and you just got to weigh the benefits between those two. And there’s no easy answer for that.

On a broad area, I could easily say, “If you have earned income enough to cover your expenses, don’t claim Social Security.” At least till full retirement age because after that the income mandate goes away and you could claim and get extra money while you’re working. And that becomes another calculation of just from a tax standpoint and needs, what are you going to do with that? Can you get more than an 8%, because that’s what growth you get on what you’re going to do with that money? But for most people, it just comes down to, what helps me sleep at night? So let’s say I’m 65 years old. I’m not full retirement age yet. I’m done working for whatever reason. Is living off of my portfolio or claiming and getting a little reduction, which one just makes me feel safer, more secure from my financial plan?

And that’s really what this comes down to. Because in the end, even when you look at trying to maximize it, you’re usually talking a couple thousand dollars, $10,000, over the life of Social Security difference. Sometimes you can see 20, 30, 40, $50,000 difference depending on your range. But even then it’s like, well, that’s if I live X amount of years, does it factor out? So most people, your claiming decision, has an impact, but it’s not like success/fail, I need to make this decision, right, or I’m in big trouble. So I want to remove that anxiety from that standpoint. You can optimize and find the best way for a lot of people if you get to full retirement age, between full retirement age and that 70, it really just becomes a 8% growth on income versus 8% growth on your investments. Which one do you feel better about getting?

Austin Wilson:

I know. I was thinking ironically, that’s about the same number you averaged over the long term in the stock market. So, I wonder if that was intentional, because you have an option. It’s where do you want the assets? It’s going to be the same.

Josh Robb:

Yep. And then the last factor is, and this is one that we’re getting into a little bit more nitty-gritty details is, let’s say you’re a couple and you have an age difference. And I’m going to use an example where the husband is older than the wife. And I’m using this for a specific reason. Women tend to live longer. And if they’re also younger, the probability that the husband passes away first is a lot higher, because one, women live longer and two, if there’s an age gap where the husband is older, then-.

Austin Wilson:

That exacerbates the difference even.

Josh Robb:

Yes. So then the question becomes, if the husband waits, the death benefit, the widower benefit, is his Social Security benefit. So then it becomes not just my life, but do I want to have, for my surviving spouse, a higher lifetime benefit for them?

Austin Wilson:

So, the longer you would wait, she would get a higher benefit as well.

Josh Robb:

Yeah. Again, that’s why it’s hard to give a flat answer to everybody. But you have to start factoring in not just my life, but who else will benefit from this Social Security claim? And does it make sense to claim earlier or later based on not only my life, but maybe potentially somebody else’s along the way? If there’s a big age range, that would make a lot of sense too. And so those are the things you got to factor in. Then those are why having a financial advisor makes a lot of sense, because they can help you look through the different options and walk through the pros and cons of claiming earlier versus waiting till age 70. In the end, for most people, what it really comes down to in the success of all this is living within the budget.

So, when you say, “Okay, I’m thinking of claiming early. Well, here’s the income I’m going to get from Social Security. Here’s my other income sources, investments, part-time work, or whatever all the things are. Does that fit my lifestyle and what I’m trying to achieve in retirement?” If not, then I need to maybe tweak that, or work a little longer, or extend how long I wait. But that’s really the end result, is I can’t give a broad answer, but in general, the longer you wait, the more income you get from Social Security. And if you think you’re going to live in or through your 80s, waiting pays off. You get more from Social Security.

And in the end, if you paid in for those 35 years, ideally, I’d like to at least get what I paid in and hopefully, more and waiting gives you more money. And if I can live through the 80s, I’ll get not only that, but more.

Austin Wilson:

All right. I took a personal finance class in college and my professor, really smart guy, said, “Obviously, Social Security, the programs has its limitations and it’s had its own funding. So, looking ahead 30, 40 years at that point, we don’t really know what it will exactly look like when we’re starting to retire.” But he said, the way he looked at retirement, which I thought was really wise is, “Don’t look at it as your sole piece of your income. Hopefully, you’ve set yourself up from the last 30 years of putting money away and doing it the way we would recommend with retirement accounts and things like that.”

“But use your Social Security as a fun buffer. Hopefully, you don’t need to live on it. That’s your vacation money, your giving money, your give-it-to-your kids money, whatever you want to do, buy a cool car. That is what you do with that money because you don’t need it.” I thought that was a really cool way to look at things, because it’s a lot of uncertainty and you want to maximize what you can get out of it. And obviously, the dollars matter, but if you don’t need-it, need-it to eat and pay your bills, then yeah, that’s really a cool place to be in, that I think is more what it’s designed of, not being the backbone of your retirement, but more of a supplement.

Josh Robb:

And coming back to that, right, so the people who, this is the averages again, so averages mean there’s up and down there, but for Social Security payments, the averages aren’t too wide because there’s a cap on earnings. But I wanted to point out a seventy-year-old who maximized Social Security, just in general, not every year, but waited the longest he could, got $3,000 of income a month. 62 got 12, almost $1,300 a month. Just think about that, but look at your lifestyle. Even the people who waited the longest, $3,000 is a good amount of money per month. But for most people, that’s hard to cover everything, which comes back to, like you said, it should not and cannot be counted for your full retirement. $3,000 a month doesn’t go a long way.

Austin Wilson:

– $36,000 a year, by the way.

Josh Robb:

Yes, yes.

Austin Wilson:

Oh, and this is not tiered. Social Security is not tiered by based on where you live, by the way. You live in New York, LA, you’re getting the same amount of money as someone living in Findlay, Ohio, which has a very low cost of living. And those are even extreme examples of that Social Security money’s not going to go very far.

Josh Robb:

Nope. So, I just want to point that again, to remind people, like you said, is do not count on Social Security as the bulk of your retirement needs. Because even when you’re trying to get to the longest point possible, $3,000 of income, well, $36,000 a year is great to have. For most people’s budgets, that doesn’t cover everything they need.

Austin Wilson:

Correct.

Josh Robb:

All right, well thank you, Austin. Hopefully, that helped people think through if you are working on or thinking through when’s the best time to claim Social Security, you can reach out to us. We’d love to have a conversation with you about that. Can contact us on our website at TheInvestedDads.com. You can also share this episode with anybody who is thinking about Social Security. And make sure that you follow us, like us, all those things you can do. Sign up for email. It gets sent to your inbox every time we post a podcast, that way you know it’s there. And we look forward to talk to you next time.

Austin Wilson:

All right, well, until next time, have a good one.

Josh Robb:

All right, bye.

Austin Wilson:

Bye.

Thank you for listening to the Invested Dads Podcast. This episode has ended, but your journey towards a better financial future doesn’t have to. Head over to TheInvestedDads.com to access all the links and resources mentioned in today’s show. If you enjoyed this episode and we had a positive impact on your life, leave us a review. Click subscribe and don’t miss the next episode. Josh Robb and Austin Wilson work for Hixon Zuercher Capital Management. All opinions expressed by Josh Austin or any podcast guests are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinions of Hixon Zuercher Capital Management.

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