By Bleckley Dobbs & Mark Ward

Social Security is complicated.  With over 2,700 different rules, there is no getting around it. Unless you have never been married, your options and overall strategy for collecting Social Security benefits will probably be complicated.  Articles and resources abound about Social Security, but the challenge for someone to take the information from those various resources and turn it into a personalized plan for his or her own retirement is huge.  Many avoid it.  Others just make a quick decision to get it over.  That’s why we are here.

2015 August Boat

A June 2014 article by Glenn Ruffenach in The Wall Street Journal, “What You Don’t Know About Social Security – but Should” says, “The Social Security Administration isn’t your financial advisor.”  We hope to answer some basic questions for you in this FAQ, but more importantly hope to encourage you to contact us when it comes time for you to consider your Social Security options.

Q: At what age should I begin collecting my Social Security Benefits?
A: Everyone’s situation is different and this question is best evaluated on a case-by-case basis. However, we like to point out that for every year one delays collecting the benefit amount increases by 8% each year after full retirement age (Delayed Retirement Credits) up until age 70.  In the table below, you see that the monthly benefits increase by over $1,000 by waiting to take Social Security for eight years—or over $13,000 per year!  For people who live a long time, delayed gratification can reap impressive rewards.

Starting benefit age

Age 62

Age 66

Age 70

Monthly benefit




Increase from age 62




*Chart based on an increase for delayed retirement for someone born in 1943 – 1954

Q: I’ve heard couples talk about “filing and suspending.”What does that mean, and can I benefit from filing and suspending?
A: If you have reached full retirement age, but are not yet age 70, you are permitted to file and suspend your retirement benefits.   Each year your own benefits are suspended up until age 70, you collect delayed retirement.  Married couples may have one person file and suspend their own benefits so that the spouse can file for spousal benefits off of the other’s earnings.  Only one member of a couple can file and suspend while the other collects spousal benefits.

One real-life example of the difference filing and suspending can make is demonstrated in how it helped two of our own clients.  When this couple reached their full retirement age, the husband chose to continue working, and therefore had earned income to continue supporting their lifestyle.  He filed and suspended his own Social Security benefits while his wife began collecting spousal benefits based on his earnings.  The amount that his wife receives by collecting spousal benefits on his earnings is higher than what she would have received by filing for her own benefits at her full retirement age. Additionally both his and her personal benefits are increasing by 8% each year until they each reach age 70.  At age 70, they will each begin collecting their own Social Security benefits each month.  They are thrilled with the extra income because they are able to donate money to charities they support.

Spousal benefits are the most complex and the least understood of all Social Security benefits.  If you are married, or if you were previously married for at least 10 years, you have many different strategies from which to choose.  Factors such as earned income, your health, family longevity, retirement accounts, etc. are all important considerations that might impact your outcome significantly.  A short phone call to the Social Security Administration or visit to their website isn’t enough. Talk to a professional who understands you and gets to know your financial and personal situation thoroughly before making a decision.

Q: How and when do I apply for Social Security?
A: The Official Social Security Website ( or, recommends you apply for Social Security benefits three months prior to when you want them to start.  The most convenient way to apply is online, but you can also visit your local Social Security Office in person or apply via phone.

Q: How much can I expect to receive in benefits?
A: The Official Social Security website offers a retirement estimator ( that gives you an estimate of your benefits using your earnings record.  It is a good idea to periodically check and ensure it reflects your earnings accurately.  To keep track of your earnings each year, manage your personal information, and more, go to To set up an account, you will be prompted to answer personally identifying questions from your credit report such as “Which of the following banks have you done business with in the past year?” and “On which of the following streets have you had an address?”  If this sounds intimidating, know that we have assisted clients with this in the past!

Q: What do I need when I apply for Social Security?
A: Your original birth certificate, proof of US citizenship, lawful alien status or a copy of your US military service papers if you served in the military before 1968, plus a copy of your W-2 forms from the previous year (so your personal information can be updated) are all documents that you may be asked to supply when applying for your Social Security Benefits.

We can help you examine the complexities of the options and also the realities of your personal situation and help you make a thoughtful decision.


The Official Social Security Website or
Retirement Estimator
Make a “My Social Security” Account
Wall Street Journal – “What You Don’t Know
About Social Security – but Should”

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