Key strategies for getting most social security benefits

DETROIT - It's impossible for any expert to predict which Social Security option will work best for someone, without having details to individualize a plan. This makes knowing the avoidable mistakes, and asking the right questions, critical for those counting on Social Security as part of their retirement plan.

Ruth to the Rescue found many people don't even like to think about how to cash in their Social Security benefits.

"I really haven't thought that far into the future yet," said Geoffrey Johnson of Royal Oak.

"I don't have a lot of experience with financial planning and now I have to get smart on it," said John Teagardin of Madison Heights.

That's exactly why Prudential's George Castineiras says you need to know a few basic things about your future Social Security benefits.

"Social Security is commonly either dismissed or misunderstood," he said.

The biggest problem Castineiras sees is people who start claiming their benefits too soon. 

George Castineiras says, "That immediate gratification is what ends up getting people to now recognize that if you wait from 62 to 70, you can more than double your Social Security." 

John Teagardin of Madison Heights retired early because of a buyout from his company, and hasn't claimed his Social Security benefits yet.

"I'm kind of dragging my feet 'til 66 thinking I'll get more money," he told Ruth to the Rescue. 

While procrastination may be paying off for Teagardin, individuals should carefully weigh their retirement dates against what they could make, just by waiting a little longer. 

Marriage and Your Benefits            

Our expert says married couples often make another mistake, by not looking for the best way to integrate their benefits. 

George Castineiras says, "You can in some situations change your benefit structure from let's say a spousal benefit to a worker benefit and substantially increase your income for life." 

Other financial-planning tips for retirement include: 

1.  Don't be overly optimistic, because it can keep people from saving as much as they should. 

2.  Don't underestimate future spending, as many medical costs and opportunities for travel will likely present themselves more then than they do now. 

3.  Don't only focus on investments, as they should be prioritized below setting habits of frugal spending. 

4.  Don't worry about being "selfish". During retirement is when the focus should shift from taking care of others, like one's children, and reposition on oneself. 

5.  Don't put off the "financial physical."  It's best to check up on finances during good financial health, not when the money ship is sinking. 

According to Castineiras, maximizing retirement dollars is more critical for people now than ever. "The reality is, people in America are living longer and that goes even further for women in America." 

Nadia Toth of Madison Heights says, "I've always been told since I was in high school, 'You'll never see your Social Security,' so I've kind of adapted to that." 

George Castineiras says people like Toth should consider that Social Security will be around for many people in some way, shape or form. 

He says, "It needs to be part of their overall planning." 

For more information on strategies to maximize Social Security benefits, Castineiras says people can type "Social Security" in the search box, when visiting: 

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