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Social Security: What is Your Strategy?

by Kelly A. Shanahan

Unless you were looking, you probably didn't notice a few changes with Social Security. Just recently the Obama Administration proposed to curb some benefit-maximization strategies that are policies rather than laws (thus requiring votes) and (again you probably didn't notice) but Social Security stopped sending out annual statements as of 2011.

Another cut-back to Social Security (a wholly self-funded program) is the decrease in field offices. Since 2010, Social Security field offices have been reduced from 92 to 46 offices, and 521 contact stations (mobile service facilities in other government offices) have been closed.

What does that mean to you? It depends; if you know what question you want to ask, then you can probably get the answer from the Social Security Administration via phone or its website.

However, if you seek guidance or help in choosing a benefit strategy that will maximize this lifetime income benefit to meet your particular needs, you may be out of luck, thinking you have reached the "no-help desk" rather than the Social Security Administration.

Social Security benefits will be the cornerstone of many women's retirement plans. Knowledge of how to fully utilize and thus, maximize those benefits via your own individual record, or spousal and/or survivor benefits is instrumental in creating a strategy so that your income benefits and other assets last as long as you do; negating the common fear of out-living your retirement assets.

Few women, especially those over 40, realize that they actually have choices to make when it comes to considering their income benefits from Social Security.

Each individual has 9 choices alone about WHEN to start taking benefits; if married or divorced, those choices multiply. The amount of that lifetime income is directly related to not only how much your income benefit is, but more importantly, when you elect to file to receive benefits.

Making the wrong decision can result in the loss of tens of thousands of dollars in your total lifetime income and you can unknowingly deny yourself access to spousal and/or survivor benefits which may be available to you as a married, divorced or widowed woman.

In order to make an informed decision, you must know your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) at Full Retirement Age (FRA). Your PIA is your income benefit that Social Security has calculated you will receive at FRA. PIA is a reflection of your best 35 years of wages or work history.

Don't worry if you don't have 35 years of work history, it only takes 10 years of work (where you contributed to social security via your FICA taxes) to create a social security income benefit/record.

While you can file for social security benefits as early as age 62, there are few benefits to that strategy, unless you absolutely need the income. Filing for benefits before FRA significantly reduces your income benefits both presently and in the future, for more than one reason.

Benefits are reduced by 25 percent if you choose to file at age 62 rather than waiting until FRA. Additionally, waiting until age 70 to start receiving income benefits has potential to increase your individual record/income benefit by 32 percent over and above your PIA at FRA.

For example, a few women I have met with assume they don't have enough to retire and therefore think they will just work while receiving their social security income benefits before their full retirement age.

Likewise, women in high-stress jobs think, oh, after they get to age 60, they will semi-retire, work in a less-stressful job or a part-time job, file for social security and start receiving their social security income benefits.

What people don't know is that that the earnings threshold for folks on social security is only $15,480, and the "tax" on any earnings over that threshold is about 50 percent. Specifically, for every $2 earned over that threshold, $1 in benefits is taken away.

So basically, if that scenario is one you've considered, you must also consider living on about $35k a year to keep under the earnings threshold (assuming you're starting social security benefits at age 62 years of age).

Many women need help in navigating these untested waters and I am uniquely qualified to assist you in your decision-making process. I offer Social Security Benefits Education, Lifetime Income Maximization Strategies, Spousal Benefit Coordination and Survivor Benefit Solutions.

Making the wrong decision may unknowingly result in the loss of tens of thousands of dollars. Please schedule a COMPLIMENTARY 15-minute consultation to see if I can help you by calling 781 771 3312 or emailing

Upcoming Social Security Seminars:

Wednesday, June 18 at 7 pm at Norwell Public Library, 64 South St., Norwell, MA

Thursday, June 19 at 10 am at Scituate Town Library, 85 Branch St., Scituate, MA

Friday, September 12 at 10 am, Linden Ponds, 203 Linden Ponds Way, Hingham, MA

Wednesday, September 17 at 6:30 pm, Kingston Public Library, 6 Green St, Kingston, MA

Please look for me on facebook to locate other seminars during July and August.

Kelly A. Shanahan is an Associate with Social Security Associates. Originally from rural, northern Iowa, she now resides in Hull, MA. Kelly is still surrounded by nature, but ocean instead of cornfields.

Kelly received her Bachelor of Science in Economics from Northeastern University and her MBA in Finance from U MASS-Boston. Formerly a business analyst with her own business and a Branch Manager/Sr. Auditor for a private firm, Kelly also taught financial literacy, business math/management and technology at Hull High School.

Contact Kelly at 781 771 3312 or