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OCTOBER 2013 — BALTIMORE BEACON
Make the most of Social Security benefits By Elliot Raphaelson When most individuals prepare for retirement, they count on three streams of income: employer-administered retirement plans, typically a defined-benefit plan and defined-contribution plan such as a 401(k); independent savings and investment; and Social Security. All too often, retirees end up depending on Social Security income to a greater extent than they had planned. That makes it all the more important that they make the right
decisions about maximizing their benefits. Once a person has made basic choices about benefits, they will not be able to change them, so it is imperative to understand all options and their implications. You have a fair amount of leeway as to when you claim your Social Security income. You can start receiving benefits as early as 62, as late as 70, or at full retirement age (FRA), which falls in between. Taking your benefits earlier reduces their amount.
A guide that can help When should you begin? That depends on a lot of personal factors that you will need to sort out. An excellent resource to help you do that is Social Security Inside Out, a booklet written by Robert Bruce. Bruce worked for the Social Security Administration (SSA) for 31 years, and he retired as a district manager. He knows how to avoid common mistakes people make regarding applying for Social Security benefits. His 38-page booklet (available at SocialSecurityInsideOut.com, $19.95) contains a great deal of useful information, including a list of retirement pitfalls, along with worksheets to help in your decision-making. The worksheet asks for information relating to your marriage, including dates, your children, and military and civilian career information. You will use the worksheet to discuss retirement options with a SSA claims representative. Once you have filled out the worksheet, Bruce recommends that you write down what questions you want to ask SSA about benefits. Then call 1-800-772-1213 to reach a representative. The worksheet allows you to write down
the information you receive from the claims representative. The worksheet is broken down into three categories for each spouse: retirement benefits, spousal benefits, and widow/widower benefits. You should obtain information from the representative for each category for benefits at age 62, at FRA and age 70. In addition, you should get additional information such as the starting date of your benefits for each option. After recording all the information, you will be in a position to analyze it, and determine which options make sense for you and your spouse. You can then apply for benefits over the phone or in person with a claims representative. You can apply for benefits when you are within three months of being eligible to receive them. However, to make the best decision, you should contact SSA well before that to review your options.
Disability and widow benefits There are a lot of special cases for initiating benefits, and the booklet highlights See SOCIAL SECURITY, page 24
FINANCIAL PLANNING AND BENEFITS WORKSHOP
Attend a free workshop on “Financial Planning, Government Benefits and Access to Healthcare” on Saturday, Sept. 28 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Union Baptist Church, hosted by Maryland Senator Delores Kelley. Topics include healthcare reform, veterans and Social Security benefits, selecting a retirement community, benefits of a will, selecting contractors and college savings plans. Speakers will be from the Maryland Dept. of Aging, Consumer Rights Coalition, Center for Veterans Education and other organizations. Refreshments will be served. The church is located at 1219 Druid Hill Ave., Baltimore. No RSVP required. For more information, call (410) 523-6880.
October 2013 Baltimore Beacon Edition