FOR LAWYERS

Guide to Social Security Planning

By
Daisy Rogozinsky
/
February 27, 2023

Social Security retirement benefits can be an important part of any individual’s retirement plan. In order to make the most out of them, it’s important to do some research and planning. This will allow you to understand how much you can expect to get from Social Security every month, maximize your benefit payment as much as possible, and make a plan for other sources of money in retirement.

This guide offers key steps individuals are recommended to take as they approach retirement in order to best plan for Social Security benefits.

1. Check Your Eligibility 

There are several different types of Social Security benefits including retirement, disability, survivors, dependents, and Supplemental Security Income. You may be eligible for one, more than one, or none. It’s important to understand Social Security eligibility requirements in order to know which type(s) of benefits you can plan to receive. 

This resource from the Social Security Administration can help you check your eligibility for different types of benefits. The table below offers a general summary of the eligibility requirements for Social Security benefits.

Benefit Type Eligibility Requirements
Retirement
  • Work for at least ten years
  • Be age 62 or older
Disability
  • Work for at least a certain duration within the past several years
  • Be unable to work because of a physical or mental condition that has lasted or is expected to last at least 1 year or result in death
Dependent
  • Be the spouse of somebody who receives Social Security benefits
  • Be 62 or older OR care for the worker’s child who is under 16 or has a disability

Alternatively:

  • Be the divorced spouse of a person who receives or is eligible to receive Social Security benefits
  • Have been married to the worker for at least 10 years OR
  • Have been divorced from the worker for at least two years if they have not yet filed for benefits
  • Be at least 62 years old
  • Be unmarried
  • In some cases, not be entitled to or eligible for a benefit on your own work equal to or higher than half the full amount the worker is eligible for
Survivor
  • Be the surviving spouse of a deceased person who qualified for Social Security benefits
  • Be 60 or older OR
  • Be 50 or older with a qualifying disability OR 
  • Be any age and care for the worker's child who is under 16 or has a qualifying disability 
Supplemental Security Income
  • Be 65 or older OR
  • Be blind or have another qualifying disability 
  • Meet income eligibility requirements

2. Review Your Earnings Record

Your Social Security benefits amount is decided at least partially on the basis of your earnings record. For this reason, it’s important that you confirm that the Social Security Administration has accurate information about your earnings. You can see this information on your Social Security Statement. If it is incorrect, it’s important to contact the Social Security Administration in order to correct them so you will receive the benefits owed to you.

3. Consider Other Sources of Income

For most people, Social Security retirement benefits alone will not be enough money to support them. Understanding what other sources of income you will have access to in your retirement will help you get a sense of whether or not it is important for you to make an effort to maximize your Social Security benefits and to what extent.

Potential sources of income you may have during retirement include:

  • Defined benefit plans (pension)
  • Defined contribution plans (like employer-sponsored retirement plans)
  • Home equity
  • Reverse mortgages
  • IRAs
  • Brokerage accounts
  • Savings accounts
  • Certificates of deposit (CDs)

4. Understand What Factors Affect Your Social Security Benefit Amount

In addition to your earnings record, several other factors affect how much your Social Security monthly benefit will be. These include:

  • Medicare - If you sign up for Medicare Part B, the cost will be taken out of your monthly Social Security benefit amount
  • Withholding taxes - If your combined income (50% of your benefit amount plus any other earned income) exceeds $25,000 per year (or $32,000 per year filing jointly), you may have to pay federal income taxes on your Social Security benefits
  • Continuing to work - If you earn more than your earnings limit and it is before your Full Retirement Age, your benefit payment will be temporarily reduced 
  • Your retirement age - While you may take benefits from age 62, if you do so before your Full Retirement Age (between 66 and 67 depending on your birth date), your monthly benefits will be reduced. In contrast, if you take benefits later than Full Retirement Age (up to age 70), you will receive credits and your benefits will increase.

5. Choose When to Take Benefits

Based on the information above, your final step is to decide when to take Social Security retirement benefits. Consider the following points:

  • What are my financial needs? Can I afford to wait longer to begin taking benefits? Do I have other income that will support me?
  • What is my life expectancy? How long do I anticipate my retirement will be? 
  • Am I eligible for benefits on the basis of my spouse’s work record? (If you plan to take dependent benefits on your spouse’s work record, they will max out at Full Retirement Age, so there is no reason to wait until later.)
  • Can I or do I want to continue to work after Full Retirement Age?

6. Apply for Benefits

Your final step of Social Security planning is to apply for benefits. You can do this online at the Social Security Administration’s website or in person at a Social Security office.

Note that you can plan your application to avoid a gap in income. In order to receive your first benefits check on a specific month, you must pick the month prior on your application and apply up to four months before the month you pick.

For help with planning and applying for Social Security, it’s always a great idea to reach out to a Social Security expert.

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