Several calls to our office in the past month reaffirm what advisors with Social Security expertise see all too often — consumers can get short-changed when they receive advice at their local Social Security office.
To illustrate this, we’ll use the real-life example of a widow who elected to first claim her widow benefits while waiting for retirement benefits to accumulate.
Because widows can claim two years earlier than those who choose early retirement, they generally would not have interaction with the Social Security Administration until it is time to claim Medicare, at age 65. In our example, the client chose to continue working and did not claim any benefits prior to age 64. Between ages 60 and 64, the earnings test would have eliminated her benefit of $1,600 per month.
However, at 64 she decided that she would work part-time and collect her widow’s benefit. At 65, she went into the Social Security office to claim Medicare. Upon pulling up her record, the agent advised her that if she switched to her own benefit she could almost offset the new premiums that she would be billed by Social Security because her own work record would qualify her to receive $1,680 per month. We frequently see this scenario play out — agents advise applicants to claim the highest benefit for which they are eligible at the time they present themselves at the office.
But what they should look at is the relationship between the suggested claim amount and the ultimate retirement benefit that the client would have been eligible for at age 70. Granted, between ages 65 and 70 the client would have been receiving more money from Social Security than she would have by collecting the widow’s benefit. However, when you consider the amount of revenue lost between the ages of 70 and 90, that advice ultimately costs the client more than $150,000 in lost benefits. Even discounted to present value the loss is staggering.
You need to clearly document procedures for your clients so that it’s easy for them to understand. It’s also important for you to forewarn them that any advice from the Social Security Administration may help in the short term but could sabatoge their entire retirement planning. Using Social Security Timing’s tools and training, you help clients avoid danger zones, create long-term relationships with clients and deepen the client relationship.