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Social Security

Max Out Your Social Security Benefits

Few married couples realize that decisions about how and when each spouse claims benefits could make a difference of $50,000 or more over their lifetime. Now you can use a free online tool to help you make better choices. For example, although you can claim retirement benefits as early as age 62, they will be reduced by 25% or more for the rest of your life. The tool, developed by Omaha financial planner Joe Elsasser, suggests that if you wait until your normal retirement age -- currently 66 -- you can take advantage of more-creative strategies. A higher-earning husband may want to "file and suspend" so his wife can claim spousal benefits immediately -- worth up to half of his benefit amount. His benefit will continue to increase, to 132% of his normal benefit at age 70. Or, if one spouse is already collecting benefits, the other (who is at least 66 years old) can restrict his or her claim to spousal benefits only, collecting some benefits now and a larger benefit later.

In the meantime, you'll have to work a little harder to estimate future benefits. The Social Security Administration is suspending its mailing of annual benefit statements to save money. You can still get an estimate of your retirement benefits based on actual earnings.