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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Golden years

by Mike Masterson | February 21, 2021 at 8:45 a.m.

Upon reaching 62, I chose to wait four years before reaching full retirement age and claiming Social Security. Today, I'm glad I did.

Not only was I able to draw considerably more each month by delaying until 66, but it has proven to be a wise decision at 74.

The average life expectancy for U.S. males in 2021 hovers just over 75, which tells me I hopefully have at least a few more years of quality existence and resulting reimbursement checks.

By waiting to begin drawing from the fund I'd regularly paid into over decades, I increased the monthly amounts by a couple hundred dollars.

Put another way, I decided to gamble that I'd make it well past 62 to reach or surpass the average life expectancy and benefit accordingly.

It's a question everyone who paid into Social Security over their lifetime faces.

Sixty-two is when the amount of monthly payments is limited to the minimum amount. If I'd chosen to take the earliest eligible retirement at age 62, I'd have been receiving 25% less than had I waited until 66, or 30% fewer dollars had I delayed until age 67. Plus I'd be required to lose $2 for every $1 earned above $18,960 annually by opting for the earlier payments until reaching full retirement age.

"Claiming at age 62 is exactly the right move if you are in poor health and don't expect to live a long life," writes Russell Gloor of the Association of Mature American Citizens. "If you wait until [full retirement age], it takes about 12 years to collect the same amount in total benefits as if you had claimed at age 62."

Gloor says there are several calculators that can help determine one's life expectancy, based on family history and lifestyle. The factors considered include such lifestyle choices as alcohol consumption, amounts of exercise and whether one wears a seat belt while driving.

While increased monthly payments for waiting are nice, there's much to be said for claiming benefits at 62. For one, it can enable a person to begin enjoying their retirement years and start fulfilling bucket-list items while relatively youthful enough to enjoy them to their fullest.

Gloor said the financial break-even point for those who claim benefits at 62 arrives at 78. That's when cumulative lifetime benefits to waiting till full retirement age would become greater. "That may not, however, offset the many years of happy retirement you've been able to enjoy because you took your benefits early."

Yet it's always wise to choose after all is considered, calculated, discussed and debated, especially when applying the "earnings test" that limits how much we can earn before our Social Security benefits are negatively affected.

When I decided to wait until 66, it was against some advice from friends who know and understand finance. However, Gloor writes that most financial advisers and Social Security advisers, including him, frequently encourage people to delay claiming benefits until full retirement age. They cite several reasons for resisting the urge to begin benefits as soon as possible, the most pertinent being those considerably larger checks at full retirement.

I know I made my best decision in waiting. But we all are different in our needs and decisions about what we want for the winter of our lifetime.

Gloor finished by saying if a person's life expectancy is at least "average," they will collect far more in lifetime benefits by waiting until Social Security's full retirement age.

I've also read that some folks report having difficulty reaching Social Security with questions. If that's your case, you can always reach out to [email protected] or by calling (888) 750-2622.

'We the people'

Ever read the message President Ronald Reagan left us during his farewell speech in 1989?

It strikes me that those words (in part below) have never been more pertinent to the future of our once United States.

"I never meant to go into politics," he said. "It wasn't my intention when I was young. But I was raised to believe you had to pay your way for the blessings bestowed on you. I was happy with my career in the entertainment world, but I ultimately went into politics because I wanted to protect something precious.

"Ours was the first revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government, and with three little words: 'We the People.'

"'We the People' tell the government what to do; it doesn't tell us. We the people are the driver; the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route, and how fast. Almost all the world's constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are.

"Our Constitution is a document in which 'We the People' tell the government what it is allowed to do. 'We the People' are free."

Now, as a free person, go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly how you want them to treat you.

--–––––v–––––--

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]

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