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Will Covid-19 Affect Your Social Security Plans?

Category: Social Security

April 21, 2019 — Deciding when to take Social Security retirement benefits is always a complex question. Now the devastating impact of Coronavirus is making it even harder. Here are some thoughts that might help on a question that always has many possible answers.

The New York Times reports in “Taking Social Security During the Pandemic” that workers in the past decade have shown a steady trend of postponing when they take Social Security, as a way to increase their potential lifetime retirement benefits. Whereas most workers still take Social Security the first chance they get at age 62, to get higher benefits more and more have been waiting to their Full Retirement Age (66-67), or even to age 70. With the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic experts are wondering if that trend will stop, or even reverse itself.

The obvious result of the coronavirus is that working people over 62 who have not yet claimed lose their jobs, or are faced with a devastating loss of income. Or, that those who planned to live off their retirement portfolios instead of claiming early see market declines that make that impossible. People in these situations might feel that they have no choice but to forget about their decision to postpone, and claim take their benefits now.

A positive trend in trouble?

In 2008 some 53% of people claiming did so at age 62, but by 2018 that had declined to 35%, a very significant change. Claiming at age 62 results in a benefit that is 72% of the Full Retirement Age benefit (age 66-67, depending on birth year). Those who wait until age 70 to claim get a hard to beat 8% annual increase for each year beyond Full Retirement Age. The fear is the economic hardships caused by the pandemic will leave people with no choice but to take their benefits now. While that might help solve a short term problem, as they enter their 80s or even 90s those reduced benefits could cause real economic hardship.

Big decisions

Someone who is debating whether to tap retirement savings and postpone Social Security, or take the benefit now has a lot of financial Jiu Jitsu to go through. On the one hand, if you have lost your job and have a reduced income, it might be a very good time to take money out of your retirement account (in fact you might have no other choice). Reduced income means your tax rate will be low and you might not have to pay much in taxes. On the other hand, if you take it now it won’t be there in your later years, or for your heirs to inherit. And, taking out money in a down market eliminates the possibility of waiting for the market to come back up again. Another possibility that couples have is to have one person claim now to get some income, and the other, ideally the one with the higher earnings record, wait until age 70.

Delaying has it benefits – if you can wait

The Times uses an example created by William Meyer, co-founder of Social Security Solutions. He uses a theoretical couple with a combined Full Retirement benefit of $3,900. They would give up $59,000 in benefits by applying at age 62 vs. their Full Retirement Ages, and $275,000 if they had waited until age 70. Of course this assumes that at least one person in the couple lives to a ripe old age.

Bottom line. There is no magic answer to the Social Security claiming question for everyone. Your life expectancy and immediate need for money have a big impact on that. We urge you to carefully consider your decision to claim, relying on your judgement and the best advice you can get. The Times article and the articles below have more detail about your options and the pros and cons.

For further reading:

Posted by Admin on April 20th, 2020

2 Comments »

  1. It’s not just about Social Security…it’s also about whether businesses will reopen and/or rehire people who are furloughed. Many people will be forced into early retirement.

    Covid-19 has affected other Social Security claiming decisions too. I currently receive widow’s benefits. My own benefit (67) would be about $400-500/mo. more than my spousal benefit. Deferring my own benefit has been an 8% annual gamble, but my family is very long-lived. Right now my budget is met 50% by Social Security, and 50% by a 401K withdrawal. My 401K is down approx. 15% this year. Switching to my own, higher Social Security Benefit will give my 401K more time to recover. I’d be trading 3 years of an 8% increase on the $400-500 additional benefit to age 70, against the potential to recover that 15%+ in my 401K.

    by Kate — April 21, 2020

  2. Has anyone needed assistance from Social Security lately? I’m frustrated! I may switch from my widow’s benefit to my own benefit at age 68. Waiting to 70 in a pandemic doesn’t seem to be as good an idea as it was when I retired at 65, especially since I live in an area with a lot of cases.

    Once I signed up for the widow’s benefit, I couldn’t access my own benefit on the Social Security website anymore. I’m now within 4 months of my 68th birthday. I just called Social Security to find out my own benefit. After waiting an hour on the phone, a rep told me that she also can’t access my record. She said she’d request my earnings record be mailed to me. It could take 2-3 weeks, but she thought my earnings statement might also show my benefit. She suggested I make an appointment at my local office to get my benefit amount, and to file for my benefit.

    I looked up my local office online, and there’s a notice that they are closed due to the pandemic. So….what are people who need to get into an office doing? I noted a lot of vulnerable people waiting in the reception room during my last visit there. It’s very unfortunate if they’ve lost this resource for an extended period of time.

    The rep said she thought they could accept my application to switch to my own benefit on the phone, even if she couldn’t tell me the amount of the benefit. (My benefit will be a few hundred dollars higher than my widow’s benefit, based on info at age 65 when I retired.)

    For what it’s worth, I thought I’d share my frustrating survivor’s benefit & pandemic Social Security experience with others here.

    by KT — September 20, 2020

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