Joe Lucey, president of Secured Retirement Advisors in St. Louis Park, Minn., sees two or three couples a month who are throwing away Social Security money.
Because the couple does not know Social Security rules in detail and they are not working with a qualified financial advisor, they are not applying for benefits when they should.
“I recently had a couple come in, both spouses were full retirement age, and neither of them was receiving Social Security. If both members of the couple are full retirement age, it is always wrong for at least one of them to not be getting Social Security,” says Lucey, who specializes in retirement planning.
“In this case, they were both waiting until they were 70 to collect benefits so the individual amounts would have reached their maximum,” he says. Social Security benefits increase by about 8 percent a year for every year the beneficiary waits after full retirement age up to age 70.
“But she could have filed for spousal benefits under her husband’s earnings record and let her own benefits grow. She then could switch to her own benefits at age 70 and the benefits would have grown for every year she delayed receiving them.”
The wife could have gotten about $12,000 a year in spousal benefits for four years [from 66 years of age to 70]. “She was leaving nearly $50,000 on the table,” he says. “This is not rare. I see this kind of situation two or three times a month.”
People who are do-it-yourselfers or who are working only with a 401(k) administrator are in danger of leaving Social Security money on the table that they could be collecting. “They need to work with an advisor who has immersed himself or herself in Social Security regulations and in retirement planning,” he says.
Lucey also says he believes people’s fears that Social Security will disappear are unfounded.
At the end of 2012, 57 million Americans were on some form of Social Security. “If there were no Social Security, many of those people would end up on some sort of welfare program paid for from general revenues and the government is not going to let that happen. There are several proposals that would make Social Security solvent far into the future,” he says, such as raising the retirement age gradually or raising the amount of income on which payroll taxes are paid.