Social Security is a big part of America's retirement picture. Almost 70% of retired Americans report that Social Security is a major source of their income and nearly 60% of those receiving Social Security are female.1
Why? Women tend to live longer than men—and typically earn less. Their life experiences can be complicated and change over time, from working full-time to staying home to support their families, or taking days off work to care for children and aging parents. Since Social Security benefits vary based on employment record, age, marital status and other factors, it's no wonder they can be confusing.
Here are five key ways to tackle your benefits and make sure you're getting the most out of your plan.
1. Understand your situation.
The first step is viewing your Social Security Statement, which you can do online at the Social Security Administration's website (ssa.gov ). You'll see a record of your earnings, the benefits you’re estimated to get at different ages and any disability/survivor benefits for which you qualify. Log in and you’ll get a good snapshot of your situation.
2. Decide when to take benefits.
When it comes to collecting your benefits, consider your age. You have three basic options:
- Taking it as early as age 62
- Taking it at your full retirement age of 65 to 67 (Depending on when you were born—the rules have changed. Your Statement will show your personal full retirement age.)
- Deferring until age 70.
Keep in mind that if you take benefits out early, there are some drawbacks. Your monthly benefit will be reduced by up to 25%, which will reduce your overall payout over the course of your life.
If you can afford it, waiting until your full retirement age or even later may make sense. Taking your benefits later will increase payments, but you might receive payments for a shorter period of time, based on how long you live.
3. Understand marital and claiming strategies.
If you’ve been married, you may be eligible to share that person’s Social Security benefits, so don’t forget that you may claim benefits from either a current or former spouse.
4. Understand survivorship benefits.
If your current spouse passes away, you’re eligible to receive survivorship benefits—an important consideration, as women tend to live longer than men.
5. Work with an advisor.
No matter what your situation or when you choose to collect your benefits, Social Security can be a complex system to navigate. The good news is that TIAA is here to help. Your TIAA advisor can assist you in creating a Social Security strategy or re-evaluating your current one to help you make sure you're getting the most out of the program.