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The Journey: Social Security numbers to know

Janet Kidd Stewart, Tribune News Service on

Published in Home and Consumer News

2. But, so does waiting too long. Taking the opposite approach, delaying as long as possible for both spouses, isn't the best strategy, either, said Mantell. People born before 1954 still have the option to file a so-called restricted application at full retirement age, giving them the right to claim either their own benefit or half of a spouse's. In these situations, a couple would be better off claiming when the higher earner reaches full retirement age, with the lower earner (a little younger) filing at the same time for a slightly reduced benefit. In that case, the higher earner could file for just a spousal benefit, equal to half of the lower earner's full benefit, and then switch to the higher earner's benefit at age 70, qualifying for delayed retirement credits, Mantell said.

3. Finding the just-right strategy. Striking a balance and filing at or near full retirement age could be the ultimate sweet spot, Reichenstein said, particularly now that the restricted application option has closed for people born after Jan. 2, 1954.

Under this scenario, the low earner would file at age 62 for reduced benefits of $750 per month. The higher earner claims at full retirement age, giving the lower earner a bump up due to spousal benefits to $1,100. If they both live to at least age 77, this strategy will have generated more lifetime benefits than both spouses claiming early. Going forward, the strategy will mean higher total benefits, compared with the other strategies, through age 83, Reichenstein said.

For many people, "winning" at Social Security might mean having collected the most during the most-active years of retirement.

4. Back to death. What if one partner dies before reaching full life expectancy? Then the just-right strategy above could still be the best option, Reichenstein argues. Say the partner dies at age 80. If the couple had begun both benefits at 62, their lifetime benefits at that point would amount to about $679,000. If one partner had begun at 62 and the other delayed to age 70, they'd have collected about $674,000 when the death occurs. The couple who started one benefit at 62 and the other at full retirement age had collected the most, $706,800. The strategy generates the highest amount of the three options through the survivor's age 84, when delaying to age 70 finally becomes the strategy to generate the most total benefits.

The question becomes, then, at what point in life do you want to "win" the claiming game?

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About The Writer

Janet Kidd Stewart writes The Journey for Tribune Content Agency. Share your journey to or through retirement or pose a question at

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