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Jun 28 2012

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Only His Undertaker Knows For Sure!

By Tom Margenau

Q. My husband is 66 years old. I’m only 60. We are having an argument about Social Security. He insists on waiting until age 70 to get his full benefits plus the delayed retirement bonus. I say he should take Social Security now. If he doesn’t, he’ll be throwing away thousands of dollars. But he says he’s run the numbers, and he comes out in the long run by waiting until 70 to take his Social Security. Which one of us is right?

A. You’re both right! And you’re both wrong! Or to put that another way: only his undertaker knows for sure! In other words, because we don’t know how long your hubby is going to live, we don’t know if he should take Social Security at 66 or wait until 70.

Personally, I think you are right. He should take his Social Security now. By waiting until age 70, he isn’t just throwing away “thousands of dollars,” as you say. He’s throwing away almost $100,000. He is going to have to live a long time past age 70 — into his mid 80s or so — to come out ahead of the game.

But as I point out so often in this column, most financial planners disagree with me. If your husband is healthy, he probably will live that long. So he may prove you and me wrong and he’ll eventually win the “Social Security game.” It’s just that at age 85, I’m not so sure he’ll be really excited about that!

Let me share a story I’ve told many times about this issue. I have been working on Social Security issues for 40 years now. In that time, I’ve talked to thousands of widows who told me something like this message I got in a recent email: “My husband recently died. He was 73 years old. He insisted on waiting until 70 to start his Social Security. I sure wish he would have taken Social Security sooner so we would have had more time to enjoy our retirement.”

On the other hand, in all those years, I never once have run into an 85-year-old person who told me, “I did it! I beat the system! I waited until 70 to start my Social Security, and now I’ve lived long enough to come out ahead of the game. I sure am glad I waited!” I’m not saying those folks aren’t out there. There are probably lots of them. But I am saying they are not jumping up and down with excitement in the old folks home because they beat the odds!

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