Widows and widowers can use a similar strategy. So can divorced people born on or before Jan. 1, 1954. There are restrictions based on your age and the length of your marriage, but the short version is this: You may be able to claim a benefit based on your former or late spouse’s earnings while delaying your own benefits till later.
Kate Bickmore of Phoenix held off getting remarried for five years just to take advantage of this one. Ms. Bickmore, a client of Ms. Anspach’s firm, Sensible Money, lost her first husband, Les, in 2008. She was 50. A few years later she met and fell in love with another man. Ms. Anspach suggested that Ms. Bickmore hold off on marrying him until she turned 60. Under Social Security rules, remarrying at 60 or older allows her to collect a widow’s benefit while delaying her own benefit until later.
“Does it sound terribly romantic?” Ms. Bickmore asked with a laugh. “Perhaps not. But when I explained it to my husband, Dan, he was like, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ At our age, it’s not like waiting to be married is a hardship.”
Retirees with children who are under 18 or disabled may also have some incentive not to delay Social Security. These children are eligible for up to 50 percent of a parent’s benefit. Depending on the children’s ages, you might find that starting your own benefit before age 70, combined with the child benefits, works to your advantage in the long run. One wrinkle: You may bump into the family maximum benefit, which varies from case to case but is usually between 150 and 180 percent of the worker’s full-retirement-age benefit.
People struggling with decisions like these have many resources to draw on. Among the online calculators that can run all the math for you is maximizemysocialsecurity.com, the handiwork of Professor Kotlikoff. It costs $40 annually per household. There are multiple free calculators, too, including ones from AARP and the investment advisory firm Financial Engines, though they are not nearly as detailed.
If you prefer interacting with live humans, there are financial consultants who specialize in Social Security. Mr. Czarnowski retired from the Social Security Administration eight years ago, figuring he would earn a little extra cash by making 10 or so presentations a year to people seeking guidance. Turns out there is a lot more demand than he expected. His consulting firm in Norfolk, Mass., has been making an average of about 60 presentations a year, and in 2016 he did almost 140. He charges up to $1,500 for a group presentation and $250 an hour for one-on-one sessions.
Mr. Czarnowski is reluctant to offer specific advice, preferring instead to let clients know their options. When to start taking Social Security is “ultimately a longevity decision,” he said. “You can’t know the ‘correct’ decision unless you know when you’re going to die. So you have to make an informed decision factoring in items you do know — things like your health and your financial situation.”