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Best Social Security Strategies for Singles

There are steps singles can take to boost their benefits.

Considering all the ways couples can boost their benefits, you may feel forsaken by the system if you're single. But although you have fewer options than your married friends, you can still take steps to increase your lifetime benefits.

Single retirees who never married don't need to concern themselves with survivor benefits -- benefits will end when they do. That gives single beneficiaries a less compelling reason to postpone claiming benefits after full retirement age, says Marc Kiner, co-founder of Premier Social Security Consulting in Sharonville, Ohio. But suppose you're healthy and want to postpone taking benefits so you can earn delayed-retirement credits. You should still file at 66 and ask Social Security to suspend your benefits.

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Here's why: Ordinarily, Social Security will pay no more than six months' worth of benefits retroactively (and it won't pay any retroactive benefits for months before you've reached full retirement age.) But if you file and suspend at age 66, you're eligible to collect all of the benefits that accumulate after you file your claim. That could provide a significant cash reserve for unexpected expenses, such as a catastrophic illness or long-term care.

This strategy also reduces the risk that you'll die before you've had an opportunity to take advantage of delayed credits, says William Reichenstein, professor of finance at Baylor University and a principal with consulting firm Social Security Solutions. Suppose a single woman is eligible for full retirement benefits of $2,500 a month at age 66 but decides to delay taking benefits until age 70. At age 68 1/2, she is diagnosed with cancer and told she has two years to live. If she had filed and suspended her benefits at age 66, she would be eligible for 30 months of retroactive benefits, for a total of $75,000. (Kiplinger has partnered with Social Security Solutions to offer a tool to uncover the most advantageous time to start collecting your benefits; visit www.kiplinger.socialsecuritysolutions.com for details.)

BEST STRATEGIES FOR: Married Couples | Divorced | Widowed

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