"The idea is to get some income coming in early but also look at the cumulative lifetime cash flow," he said.

If you need help running the numbers, check out a free online tool offered by Financial Engines the big advisory firm for 401(k) plans (http://bit.ly/1lEeahk). The Social Security Administration has a free downloadable tool (http://1.usa.gov/1OcZiWX) and Social Security Solutions offers a solid solution for a small fee (http://bit.ly/1rSd3pP)

Here is an example created using the Financial Engines tool.

Mike was born in December 1956, and has reason to think he will have average life expectancy (living to about age 86). Ann was born in October 1958, and can expect greater than average life span (around 91). He earns $140,000 per year; she earns $80,000. If they both file at the full retirement age (66), he will receive an initial benefit of $33,700 per year. She will get $27,800. Their expected lifetime benefit is $1,473,500.

How could they boost those numbers? If Ann files for her earned benefit at age 67, and Mike files at age 70, they will receive $149,000 more in lifetime benefits.

In situations where one spouse's income is much lower -- less than half of his or her mate's -- Blankenship suggests that the lower earner file at 62 (the earliest claiming age). At a later point, when the higher-benefit spouse files, the lower earner could be entitled to an increase from a spousal credit. The Social Security Administration typically would bump up his or her payments automatically when the spouse files, although Blankenship advises contacting the SSA to make sure it happens.

Blankenship also advises couples to think about maximizing monthly benefits for the spouse most likely to live longest. Even fairly affluent households can run out of savings at advanced ages. For a widow in her 90s in that situation, a maximized Social Security benefit, adjusted annually for inflation, can be a real life-saver. In Mike and Ann's case, for example, her income as a widow will be $10,900 higher.

"The key is to have a lifetime strategy as a couple," Blankenship said. "Don't just say to yourself, 'This is my benefit -- I want it right now because I've worked long and hard for it.'"

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