Social Security is a program that provides money for retirement, but it offers a variety of ways to access that funding. It can be difficult to answer even the easy questions such as when is the best time to claim your benefits. Plus, Social Security representatives are not able to tell you the best filing decision for your circumstances. For these reasons and others, consulting a financial advisor is a good option if you’re looking to make the smartest decision on Social Security.
Here are five ways that a financial advisor can help you make smart choices when it comes to Social Security.
1. Find the best Social Security filing status for your situation
If you apply for Social Security benefits, the program is going to tell you whether you’re eligible and then start paying. What representatives won’t tell you is the filing status that works best for you and your family. And that’s where a financial advisor can really help you get extra money.
If you’re single, the filing decision may be easier, but if you’re married, you need to consider your spouse if you’re looking to max out your total family income. Should a spouse claim the benefits on a partner’s account or their own, and when? Would it make more sense to claim benefits on an ex-spouse’s account than your own – and how does that process work?
Determining the best filing status for Social Security can be a maze, and you need a guide who’s been through it all before and can help you avoid the biggest Social Security mistakes.
2. File for Social Security at the best time for your needs
A retirement financial advisor can help you model the decisions you have in front of you and see which makes the most sense for your needs. Are you willing to sacrifice Social Security income in order to retire earlier, or do you want to work three more years, while your spouse continues to earn an income? How do all these decisions affect the total retirement income you receive?
A good advisor can help you balance the choices you need to make with the ones you want to make – and then ensure you still have enough income to pay for the retirement you’d like.
3. Max out your Social Security check
You have three major ways to max out your Social Security check – work longer, earn more and delay your benefit – and a good retirement advisor can show you how much these can affect your total payout in dollars and cents. Then you can devise a plan that gets you more money.
It’s important to understand that you have two senses in which to max out your money – how much you get per month and how much you get over your total benefit period. These separate goals may require the expertise of a financial advisor to help you understand the costs of filing early for benefits, when you can sacrifice as much as 30 percent of your full monthly benefit.
At the same time, it may not make sense in your individual situation to wait until age 70 – when you can receive the max possible payout, 124 percent of your full benefit. If your objective is the maximum total payout over your lifetime, the averages suggest you should wait until age 70. But a financial advisor can help you find the numbers that work for you, not the “average” person.
4. Fit Social Security into your total retirement plan
Your retirement plan shouldn’t rely exclusively on Social Security. It wasn’t created for that, and you’re unlikely to receive enough to live only on the payment anyway, given the average payout. But a good financial advisor can help you fit Social Security into your retirement income plan.
Social Security can become a solid income base, and with the advisor’s help you can then layer on income from tax-advantaged retirement accounts such as a 401(k) and IRA, annuities, pensions and more. By thinking about the totality of your post-work income, a good advisor can even help you minimize the amount you need to save out of your own paycheck.
5. Get a higher Social Security check, even if you’ve already filed
If you’ve already filed for Social Security, it might not be too late for you to actually get more from the program – maybe even without having to pay back what you’ve already received. You have two options to take a “do over”: suspending your benefit and withdrawing your benefit.
One of these strategies could make sense if you suddenly have another income source, such as an inheritance. An advisor can work through these alternatives and what they mean for your total retirement income, figuring out what your new higher monthly benefit could be. More to the point, they can help you see whether either strategy makes sense for your financial situation.
Work with an advisor specialized in Social Security
While financial advisors cover many different areas for their clients, it’s valuable to look for one who has specific expertise in Social Security and the issues surrounding it. For example, a retirement financial advisor is likely to have deep expertise in this area, while an investment advisor is less likely to have skills in this area, though should know the investment field well.
A specialized advisor can run Social Security simulations for you and determine an optimal path to retirement for you, allowing you to see what’s possible and make an informed decision. A good advisor offers not only a retirement plan but peace of mind that you can reach your goal.
Given the potential money at stake, it can be worthwhile to consult a financial advisor well before you’re even eligible to claim Social Security, giving you plenty of time to course-correct. You could make small decisions that have an outsized impact on the rest of your financial life. Plus, the investment in smart planning could more than make up for the advisor’s fee.
Here’s how to choose a financial advisor – and the six things you should look for.
Working with a financial advisor can help you make smart decisions and really optimize your payout from Social Security, making it well worth the advisor’s upfront expense. If you’re looking for an advisor in your area, Bankrate’s financial advisor matching tool can provide suggestions.