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A few Questions & Answers on when to claim Social Security Benefits

Mary Beth Franklin has been a journalist since the early 1980s and covered major political and economic issues including the Social Security reform legislation of 1983. Today, she writes for Investment News and is the author of the eBook, Maximizing Social Security Benefits, in its 10th year of publication, which provides guidance on how future retirees can make the most of their retirement benefits.

Here are Mary Beth's answers to Tammy Flanagan of NARFE Magazine.

TF What are the primary factors that influence when to claim Social Security?

MBF Age, marital status, health and other sources of income. If you can afford to delay, up until age 70, you will get a bigger check for the rest of your life. That assumes you are healthy enough and wealthy enough to wait. Healthy enough in that you will live a long time and wealthy enough in that you have other sources of income while you wait to collect Social Security.

TF Who is the best person to discuss claiming Social Security with?

MBF. Some SSA reps can be very helpful. Others may not be. SSA employees are generally overworked and understaffed. I recommend getting advice from a financial adviser or Social Security expert about how and when you should claim Social Security.

TF. What should people know about the future of Social Security?

MBF. Social Security faces long-term financial problems that Congress must address during the next decade. I believe Congress will tackle SS reform, just it it did in 1983-the last time the program was in danger of not being able to pay full benefits. SS has never missed a benefit payment in its more than 85-year history. But even in the worst case scenario, when Congress doesn't act in time and the SS trust funds are depleted around 2034, there would still be enough revenue from ongoing payroll taxes to pay about 80% of promised benefits. Social Security is not going bankrupt as some critics claim.

TF. How long does someone need to be married to qualify for spousal benefits?

MBF. To qualify for benefits on a spouse's earning record (if larger than your own SS retirement benefit), you must be married for at least one year. To quality for survivor benefits, you must be married at least 9 months and at the time of death of the spouse. To qualify for benefits as an eligible divorced spouse, you must be married at least 10 years, divorced and currently single. Although you lose the right to collect spousal benefits on a living ex-spouse. If you remarry, you may be able to collect survivor benefits on an ex-spouse if you waited until 60 or later to remarry-even if you are married to someone else.

TF. Is it best to apply online, over the phone, or in person? Does it make any difference?

MBF. I urge people to claim benefits online when possible. You can file the benefits up to 4 months before you want benefits to begin. However, survivors must contact SS by phone or in person to apply.

TF I f an individual is working at their full retirement age, is it best to claim the benefit prior to retirement or would it make more sense to delay the claim until age 70?

MBF. Generally it would make more sense to delay Social Security until 70 to create a bigger future benefit. Also SS benefits are subject to federal and in some cases, state income taxes,

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