I used to think the right time to learn about Social Security was right before I need it. No sense in learning about something and then having to learn about changes. Well, I’ve changed my mind on this. I received a copy of the book, Social Security Strategies: How to Optimize Retirement Benefits [3rd Edition]. Sad to say, I received this book over a year ago. And it’s been sitting on the corner of my desk for quite some time.
I finally started digging into the book and realized that understanding Social Security is going to take some time. And it’s possible that one book isn’t going to answer all of my questions. So instead of rushing to learn Social Security when I’m in my 60’s, maybe it makes sense to start learning about it when I’m younger.
While I’m sure that I don’t know everything that I need to know about Social Security, I did learn a few things from reading about it. The book authors also have a website with additional information. Here are my takeaways:
- Social Security benefits are driven by age. I’m sure most of you already knew that. But it appears that for some individuals, the date when you can collect benefits is changing. For example, if you’re turning 62 in 2019, your full retirement age is 66 years, 6 months (that’s a two-month increase from last year).
- You will want to discuss Social Security strategies with your spouse or significant other. While many benefits are focused on the individual, the amount of your Social Security benefit can change depending on your marital status. You’ll want to decide as a family when each person might want to consider taking their benefit.
- You will want to plan your filing strategy years in advance. There’s a lot of writing about getting the greatest monthly benefit when you wait until you’re 70 to file for Social Security. But if your goal with Social Security is to draw as much money as possible, then it could make more financial sense to draw early and collect longer.
- If you don’t know how to manage cash flow, you’ll want to learn. Collecting Social Security means living on a budget. And budgets mean understanding cash flow. It’s about having money when you need it, and that includes for emergencies.
- You’ll want to monitor your estimated benefits. And start thinking about living within that budget. Speaking of budgets, another aspect of finances to think about is changing your lifestyle to live within your means. It’s possible that all of the things that are necessary right now, we won’t need to purchase in the future.
- If you’re planning to work while drawing benefits, you’ll want to understand the impact. If you’re planning to freelance or consult during retirement, you’ll want to think about how much money you’re trying to make while collecting Social Security. Because…see #7.
- Social Security doesn’t mean you’re no longer paying any taxes. There are limits on how much money you can make without incurring tax penalties. You’ll want to know what those numbers are because it will drive your unretirement strategy.
- Finally, you’ll want to know how to apply. And the necessary paperwork to bring. Don’t wait until the last minute to figure out how to apply. Can you apply online? Is it better to apply in person? What paperwork do you need to bring with you?
Regardless of your financial position, chances are Social Security is a part of your retirement plan. Don’t wait until the last minute to start learning about it. And one other thing…if you’re thinking that you will need Social Security someday, then don’t ignore the conversations happening within government. I’m not here to tell you what to think. But if you don’t want someone to mess with your retirement without you getting a say…then learning about Social Security sooner (versus later) makes sense.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby at Lucky’s Lunch Counter in San Diego, CA