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Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits with Natalie Berning

Take the first step to achieving your financial goals.

Guidance from an experienced local professional.

Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits is a topic complex enough to require two webinar sessions. In this second session, we’re discussing topics including spousal and survivor benefits, general guidelines for claiming benefits, and more.

If you missed session 1, you’ll find that video here.

Both videos should provide you some fundamental answers to complex questions, preparing you to meet one-on-one with a financial advisor. With so many choices to make, it can be difficult to plan how to get the most out of your Social Security benefits. Working with a financial professional like Natalie Berning and her team can help you and your family evaluate all your options.

Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits - Part 2
Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits
Video transcript

Hello, and welcome. My name is Natalie Berning, financial advisor with OnPoint Investment Services and Raymond James. I’m here today to talk to you about maximizing your Social Security benefits. OnPoint was founded in 1932 by teachers. So providing education to our members is a large part of how we provide value to our community. We have a team of financial advisors throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington, and we work with our members one-on-one and provide educational seminars like this, to help our members build a secure financial future. I’ve broken this seminar into two sessions, given that there’s so much information to cover.

Topics covered in Session 1

So, in session one, as a reminder, if you’ve already watched it, we discussed retirement income sources, Social Security solvency, early versus delayed filing, working and receiving benefits, taxation of social security, as well as some frequently asked questions. If you haven’t had a chance to watch that session and are interested in those topics, I encourage you to find the other session’s recording on our website.

Topics covered in Session 2

In this session, we’re going to be discussing spousal benefits, survivor benefits, questions to consider as you’re approaching Social Security age, general claiming guidelines, as well as some next steps. I’ll also again answer some frequently asked questions.

Cumulative Benefits over time

Before we get into spousal benefits, I wanna take a moment and talk about how the cumulative benefits over time adjust the break-even age for collecting social security benefits.

So some of you are thinking, well, of course, you get a higher benefit if you delay because you’ll miss out on getting all those years of payments sooner. So let’s take a look at how the benefits add up over time based on different claiming ages.

I’d like to highlight a few items on this chart starting with the dotted line.

The first dotted line at age 75 is when total benefits for claiming at age 66 surpass claiming at age 62, which means that if you claim at 66 and you live past the age of 75, then you’re better off having claimed at 66 than claiming at 62. However, if you claim at 66 and you were to pass away prior to age 75, then it would have been better to collect at sixty-two.

The second line at age 78 is when claiming at age 70 surpasses claiming at age 62. And the third dotted line is when claiming at age 70 surpasses claiming at age 66.

After age 80, the difference gets larger and larger each year. And by age 90, the difference in lifetime benefits is hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So this is just one example, and break-even ages will vary a little bit based on factors like your full retirement age and your total benefits.

But this gives an example of how long you need to live in order to make waiting for social security in your best interest.


Now, of course, when we’re deciding when to claim Social Security, it would be easier if we knew how long we would live.

Longevity continues to increase, and the odds of at least one person in a couple who’s currently aged 65 living to age 90 is 49 percent. So almost 50 percent. If longevity runs in your family, delaying benefits makes even more sense. So this chart is just showing the probability of living to a specific age based on your gender or based on a couple.

This is important as we start talking about spousal benefits because often you’re not just making a decision about your own Social Security benefits but also about how Social Security benefits will impact your spouse.

Spousal Benefits

So let’s now transition to Social Security for married couples, i.e., spousal benefits.

This is where things can get a little more complex, but the concepts are extremely important to understand so that you don’t overlook options that are available to you.

Spousal benefits are valuable for couples if one spouse does not qualify for individual benefits, or if they have a much lower primary insurance amount. Or finally, if the restricted application is an option, which we can discuss in more detail later.

Married individuals are eligible to claim spousal benefits, which are based on the other spouse’s earnings history, if they have been married for at least one year, are at least the age sixty-two, and the spouse whose earnings record is being collected on must have started receiving their individual Social Security benefits.

So if you’re the spouse who didn’t work and you would like to claim spousal benefits, the spouse who worked has to already be claiming benefits.

The maximum spousal benefit that can be received is 50 percent of the other spouse’s Primary Insurance Amount, which is achieved by waiting until full retirement age to collect spousal benefits.

Spousal benefits can be available as early as age 62, but just like regular benefits, they will be reduced for each month prior to full retirement age that you collect those benefits.

The minimum spousal benefit at age 62 is 32.5 percent of the other benefit.

If your full retirement age is 66, then the minimum spousal amount is 35 percent of the other spouse’s primary insurance amount.

Divorced Spousal Benefits

Did you know that you can receive spousal benefits even if you are a divorced spouse? Now the requirements for this are that you have to have had a marriage that lasted at least ten years, you have to be divorced for at least two years, and you have to currently be unmarried. Additionally, you need to be aged 62 to start collecting those reduced benefits.

Collecting a claim on a divorced spouse is a confidential claim. So your ex-spouse is not gonna know that you’re collecting social security benefits off of their earnings record, and it also does not impact their own benefits.

If you’ve been divorced a few times and all of the marriages lasted at least ten years and you’ve been divorced at least two years, you can choose which ex-spouse’s earnings to claim off of. If one was a high earner and one wasn’t, you do get to choose the higher earner.

So divorced spousal benefits do work similar to regular spousal benefits, but the one advantage is that you don’t have to wait for your ex-spouse to start claiming their individual benefits first. So if you’re a divorced spouse, you can start collecting benefits off of your ex-spouse’s record, even if they have not started collecting benefits themselves yet.

Survivor Benefits

In addition to spousal benefits, there are also survivor benefits in the Social Security program.

Survival benefits are extremely valuable if the lower-earning spouse survives the higher-earning spouse.

A widow or widower may receive survivor benefits as early as age 60 or even younger if they’re caring for a child under age 16 or a disabled child.

Full survivor benefits are available at full retirement age and are equal to 100 percent of the benefit the deceased spouse was receiving or eligible to receive at death.

If survivor benefits are claimed prior to the surviving spouse’s full retirement age, a monthly reduction does apply.

At age 60, the minimum amount would be equal to 71.5 percent of the deceased spouse’s benefits.

Now if the widow or widower remarries, the Social Security benefit for the widow or widower may terminate, but the benefit for an eligible child would not terminate.

If the surviving spouse is eligible for their own benefits, there can be opportunities to cut claims survivor benefits and let their own individual benefit grow until the age of 70, or they can claim their own individual benefit early and claim full survivor benefits at full retirement age.

These scenarios are important to run through with someone who has the ability to run through the scenarios with sophisticated software.

Survivor benefits are also available to a divorced spouse unless remarriage occurs before the age of 60. And again, the marriage did need to have lasted at least ten years.

Annual Benefits – Married Couple Example

To better understand spousal benefits and survivor benefits, let’s take a look at a case involving a married couple. So imagine we have Lisa who has a primary insurance amount of $833 per month or $10,000 per year. And Henry has a primary insurance amount of $2,000 dollars per month or $24,000 dollars per year. To keep things simple, imagine they’re both the same age and their full retirement age is 66.

This chart illustrates what their benefit amounts are if they both collect benefits at age 62, at age 66—or their full retirement age—and age 70.

One thing I would like to specifically point out is that because Henry has a much higher primary insurance amount, Lisa is collecting 50 percent of Henry’s primary insurance amount since it’s higher than her own individual benefit would be. Henry also receives a significantly higher dollar amount for delaying his benefits compared to Lisa. And also note that if Lisa survives Henry, she can step up her benefit to his benefit amount and collect the survivor benefits.

So in this case, it’s more important for Henry to delay his benefits as long as possible than it is for Lisa to delay.

So let’s look at what it would look like if Lisa collects benefits before Henry.

In this example, Lisa collects as soon as she is eligible at age 62 and receives 75 percent of her own primary insurance amount, or $7,500. Henry then collects at full retirement age of 66 and receives his full primary insurance amount of $24,000.

When Henry starts collecting his benefits, this allows Lisa to get her spousal benefit increase. Then if Lisa survives Henry, she can again step up into the benefit Henry was entitled to.

This next example is similar, but it shows Lisa collecting at full retirement age and Henry collecting at age 70.

The main difference here is Henry’s benefit amount and Lisa’s survivor benefit if she outlives him is much higher.

Cumulative Lifetime Benefits

So, what strategy yields the highest amount of lifetime benefits for Henry and Lisa? Well, it really depends on how long they each live. If we assume that Henry lives until age 86 and Lisa lives until age 90, and they receive a two percent COLA—or cost of living—increase each year, we get the following results.

You can see on this chart that if Lisa collects at full retirement age and Henry collects at age 70, they receive over $1.2M in combined benefits over their lifetimes. And it also maximizes the amount that Lisa receives if she survives Henry.

You can also see in this example that there are a lot of different options available in figuring out when each spouse should collect their benefits.

It will also depend on what other retirement income sources the couple has available to them. This is work that you can do on your own as you’re planning for your social security, or something that you can work on with myself or one of the other financial advisors on our team to figure out your best claiming strategy.

Age 62 before 2016?

Now earlier I did mention what was called filing restricted application.

This was something that Congress eliminated in 2015, but if you turned age 62 prior to 2016, you do have access to this strategy.

Now as the years have gone by since 2015, there are fewer and fewer folks out there who turned 62 prior to 2016 and are not already collecting benefits. But if you fall in that category, a restricted application is an option that’s available to you.

Restricted Application – Married Couple Example

I’ll give one brief example of filing a restricted application.

So restricted application allows both Henry and Lisa to receive spousal benefits.

In this example, Lisa collects her full primary insurance amount at her full retirement age, which allows Henry to collect 50 percent of Lisa’s primary insurance amount until he then switches over to collecting his own maximum benefit amount at age 70.

This allows Henry to collect an additional $20,000 in spousal benefits before he starts receiving his own individual benefits.

Questions to Consider

I know we’ve reviewed a lot of information so far. So let’s take a step back and look at some questions you should ask yourself when you’re developing a plan for social security.

So I’ve outlined here some things to think about when it comes to your work life, your spouse, your longevity, as well as your overall retirement income when thinking about the right timing for claiming social security.

So when do you plan to stop working? What will your earnings look like in retirement? What benefit are you or your spouse eligible for? What is your longevity?

What other sources of retirement income do you have?

These are questions that you can walk through together with your spouse or with a trusted financial professional.

General Claiming Guidelines

Some general claiming guidelines as you’re thinking through your Social Security benefits would be if you were gonna claim your benefits before your full retirement age, it may be because you have a lower life expectancy, you have lower earnings, and are the younger spouse, you have a strong need for income right away, you’re fully retired with no earnings, or you’re receiving survivor benefits or are disabled.

If you are gonna be collecting at full retirement age or later, this is generally the best practice, is appropriate if you have a longer life expectancy, especially important if you’re the higher earner with a lower earning or younger spouse, if you’re still working or have access to other sources of income, and in order to maximize the spousal benefit.

So for most people, claiming at full retirement age or later is ideal, but that doesn’t always work out in practice.

Next Steps

Some next steps as you figure out how to move forward in making this decision would be to go to and establish your online account, to review your personal benefits information, and then to look at the different claiming scenarios, whether that’s claiming early, at full retirement age, or later, and then develop and implement a comprehensive retirement income plan to make sure that the Social Security as well as other income sources are gonna be enough to live on in retirement.

Raymond James has the tools and resources to help you understand all the decisions you face, and we’re happy to meet with you one-on-one at your convenience to help you walk through these steps.

Frequently Asked Questions

Hopefully, I’ve answered many of your questions in session one and session two of Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits.

But I’ve probably also generated some new questions in your minds. I’ll talk about a couple of the frequently asked questions I get when I’m meeting with folks one-on-one, but if you have additional questions you’d like to ask, please reach out.

So one question I get asked is: “I plan on moving out of the country for a few years. Would I still be able to receive my Social Security benefits?”

So you must notify the Social Security Administration if you plan to travel outside of the United States for thirty days or more. And I believe there are special reporting instructions and arrangements to continue receiving benefits in your absence.

I do know there are several countries where you would not be able to receive your benefits. So if you’re planning on moving abroad, you’ll wanna look into that in advance.

Another question I get is “When should I apply for my benefits?”

So if you’re asking about eligibility to apply, beneficiary should apply for benefits about three months before the date they wish to begin receiving those benefits.

So if you were gonna collect at age 62, you could apply as early as age 61 and nine months. Now if you’re asking if you should start collecting at 62, 66, or 70, that’s a different story. We should sit down and calculate your numbers.

Investment Services Contact Information

Thank you so much for joining me today to learn more about maximizing your Social Security benefits. I know we covered a lot of information, so if you have any follow-up questions on Social Security, or any other financial planning or investment topics, please reach out to our team at Investment Services. One of our many financial advisors would be happy to meet with you one-on-one. Thank you so much, and have a great day.

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