With the stock market down 25% over the past year and Social Security payments rising to a maximum benefit of $4,485 in January, even wealthy clients are starting to pay much closer attention to Social Security, advisors say.

Simply put, rising benefits give investors more options when creating an optimal retirement funding strategy.

“If you’re a millionaire and have most of your wealth invested and you’ve seen that wealth go down in the stock market, Social Security is coming in as an important source of income in your overall plan,” says Susan Mitcheltree, a partner at Berman McAleer in Baltimore.

The recent cost of living adjustment “is a considerable increase from what we’ve been seeing, especially from the years when we didn’t have any meaningful increases because inflation adjustments were so low. In the inflationary environment we’re in, we needed to see it come up,” Mitcheltree says.

The Social Security Administration announced the 8.7% cost-of-living adjustment on October 18. It’s the biggest increase since 1981, when the COLA hit 11.2%, and reflects ongoing inflation in the U.S., which was down slightly to 8.3% in October based on a rolling calculation of prices over the previous 12 months.

When Social Security benefits increase significantly, it gives investors more options when it comes to deciding what assets to tap first to maximize and extend the longevity of a retirement portfolio, advisors say.

Especially with the market in decline, “Social Security is the only instrument that lasts as long as you do,” says Jeremy Keil, the founder of Keil Financial Partners in New Berlin, Wis. Social Security, he adds, “goes up with inflation as we just saw and there are no commissions or [fees]. You can never run out.”

His firm always runs the numbers to show clients all of their options when it comes to deciding when to start benefits. “If you can wait until age 70, you’ll be able to grow your benefits by 8% a year, which means you’ll earn roughly an extra $100,000 tax-free by age 70, so we very much encourage waiting on a higher benefit,” Keil says.

But not in every case. When both spouses in a couple have earned Social Security benefits, he says, “a lot of times we like to let the opinions and feelings of the client dictate what they want to do,” even if it means taking the smaller benefit before age 70, Keil says. There are definitely clients who feel they do not want to cash in their investments with stocks down 25%, he says, and the math might even support their feelings for taking Social Security now.

“If your portfolio is down 25% and it gets back to even in three years, that will beat even the 8% growth in Social Security benefits that will accrue if you wait until age 70 to begin taking benefits,” Keil says.

So, for some people, especially those who have a spouse with richer Social Security benefits, tapping their own, lesser benefit early can make sense—especially if they’ll invest the proceeds. “When you have couples who will both retire early, sometimes a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, because it can make sense for one to claim early to get an income stream started and invest the monthly payment using a strategic investment strategy,” Mitcheltree says.

Tapping the Social Security benefits of one spouse can also mean that’s less income they need to take from their portfolio, even if they’re not actively investing the benefit, “so it can work out to have similar benefits,” she adds.

Keil says he finds that clients often end up retiring earlier than they expect and living longer than they planned. To help them understand how much it will cost if these things happen, he runs their Social Security and longevity projections to show them how much waiting until age 70 to claim benefits will provide.

But he also encourages clients to run their own life expectancy numbers on www.longevityillustrator.org, which can produce eye-opening results, he says.

“What’s important is that it is based on math and science and not feelings,” Keil says. “Feelings regarding longevity are almost always wrong.” The projections can also keep clients from jumping the gun on claiming their Social Security benefits early, when often they do not need to.

Calculating joint life expectancy using the tool is a particular eye-opener for couples. “You can say you’ll live to age 75 and your spouse may live until 80, but typically one partner will live three to five years longer and we help people plan for that,” he says.

“For most clients, we say, ‘Let’s do Social Security bridging until age 70, and based on the planning we’ve done for you for years, here is what your income will be.’ I have never had someone say we need more income,” Keil adds.