Retirement DecisionsContinuing Robert Berger’s excellent US News and World Report personal-finance piece on Social Security and when to begin claiming benefits.

“Your break-even age. Life expectancy has a lot to do with when it’s best to take Social Security. As noted above, the government tries to balance Social Security payments so that whether you take them early or delay them, you’ll get about the same amount of money by age 77, an American’s current life expectancy.

“However, if you expect to live a lot longer than 77 or die much earlier than that, you may benefit from taking your Social Security later or earlier, respectively. For instance, if you wait to take Social Security at your normal retirement age of 66, as opposed to age 62, you’ll only have to live until 77 or 78 to break even, according to Schwab calculations. Break-even ages rise the later you wait to take Social Security.

“Consider your decisions as a married couple. There are several different strategies for maximizing Social Security checks as a married couple:

  • “Claim and suspend. If one spouse has made much more than the other over a lifetime and the higher-earning spouse wants to keep working, this can be a good strategy. Basically, the higher-earning spouse will claim Social Security benefits at full retirement age, but suspend payments indefinitely. The lower-earning spouse can then claim a spousal benefit, while the higher-earning spouse’s suspended payments increase his or her Social Security benefit over time.
  • “Claim and claim again. If both spouses have made similar salaries over their lifetimes, this strategy can be helpful, especially if you can handle lower checks during the early retirement years. For this strategy, both spouses retire. One takes Social Security, while the other claims spousal benefits, putting off his or her own Social Security withdrawals until 70, significantly boosting the second spouse’s eventual Social Security checks.
  • “Maximizing survivor benefits. When planning Social Security as a married couple, it’s important to get the surviving spouse the most money possible after one spouse dies. Waiting until full retirement age to collect Social Security will increase your spouse’s survivor’s benefit, so it’s usually a good idea to wait until at least full retirement age to claim benefits”

To be continued.