To celebrate Veterans Day, Kiplinger's Social Security Solutions will offer recommended claiming strategies free to all U.S. military veterans. "The goal," explains Knight Kiplinger, editor in chief of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, "is to help bolster the financial security of the men and women who have served to protect the security of our nation."
See Also: Maximizing Social Security Benefits
As the youngest Vietnam-era vets approach Social Security decision time, it's important that they understand that when they claim benefits will affect how much they and their spouses—if they are married—will receive from the program over their lifetime. You may claim benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70, and the timing can profoundly affect your monthly payment. If you are due $1,500 a month at full retirement age (currently 66), for example, you would get $1,125 a month if you claim benefits at age 62 but $1,980 monthly if you delay your claim until age 70.
Research by William Meyer, founder of Social Security Solutions, and William Reichenstein, a professor of finance at Baylor University, shows that for a single person who dies at age 80, it makes little difference whether he or she claims Social Security benefits at age 62, age 70 or any age in between. In any case, that person would receive similar total benefits over his or her lifetime. But for anyone who lives past age 80, waiting until age 70 to claim benefits will likely pay off in increased lifetime payments. The timing decision is especially complicated, and potentially far more rewarding, for married couples because some strategies offer opportunities to increase lifetime benefits significantly.
Meyer and Reichenstein have created a software tool that crunches the numbers to create a strategy, based on life-expectancy projections, that will deliver maximum benefits. That's the tool vets can use on November 11. The free-for-a-day program is sponsored by Wells Fargo as part of the bank's efforts to serve members of the military. "Choosing when to take your Social Security benefits is one of the most important financial decisions of your life," notes Karen Wimbish, director of retail retirement at Wells Fargo.
Maximize your benefits. To illustrate the potential rewards of using the tool, Meyer cites the results of an educational program offered to a group of Iowa residents last summer. "The recommended claiming strategies could add an average of more than $170,000 to the lifetime benefits of those who used the tool," Meyer reports. Estimated lifetime benefits were projected to be $27,000 to as much as $305,000 more than the amount recipients would likely collect by simply claiming benefits as soon as possible, at age 62. "We want to make sure veterans don't leave money on the table by making a silly mistake," Meyer says. "Maximizing Social Security and coordinating those benefits with military retirement pay can provide for a much richer retirement."
The tool will be free for veterans from 12:01 a.m. eastern time until midnight Hawaii-Aleutian time on November 11 at www.socialsecurityforveterans.com. To get a personalized claiming strategy in a downloadable report, you'll need to input your "primary insurance amount" (PIA), which is the estimated monthly Social Security benefit you are due at your full retirement age. (You will not be asked for your Social Security number.) You can get a benefits statement showing your PIA by visiting www.ssa.gov/mystatement and creating a "My Social Security" account.
Nonveterans may purchase personalized claiming strategies at kiplinger.socialsecuritysolutions.com.