It’s almost half of total income for unmarried women aged 65 and older and 35% for unmarried men in the same age band, according to a Social Security Administration fact sheet.

Colleen Jaconetti
Colleen Jaconetti
“People who’ve never married can benefit from some strategies to help optimize their Social Security cash flow,” said Vanguard Investment Strategy Group’s Colleen Jaconetti.

Hold off filing until you reach full retirement age

You may be able to file for Social Security benefits at age 62. But you won’t receive 100% of your monthly benefit (called your Primary Insurance Amount) until you hit your full retirement age. If your birth year falls between 1943 and 1954, that means age 66, based on current Social Security rules.

Let’s say you do file on your 62nd birthday. You’ll receive 75% of the benefit you’d get if you waited until age 66.

Jonathan Kahler
Jonathan Kahler
“That’s a 25% pay cut. And it extends over the course of your life in retirement. The longer you live, the more you may feel that benefit reduction’s effect on your lifestyle,” said Jonathan Kahler, also with Vanguard Investment Strategy Group.

Wait even longer if you can

Waiting until age 70—the latest age you can file for benefits—increases your Social Security payment by 8% each year you delay past your full retirement age. Returning to our example, if you were born in 1950 and postpone taking benefits until you’re 70, the four-year delay, at 8% each year, translates into a payment that’s about 32% larger than the one you’d receive if you filed at your full retirement age of 66. Plus, you’ll also receive inflation increases during that time.

The longer you live, the greater the impact this larger payment can have. Here’s an example that uses a life expectancy of 88, based on data for women age 65 today, and assumes you qualify for a $2,000 monthly benefit. If you start receiving benefits at age 66, you’ll receive $528,000 over the course of your retirement.

But if you wait until age 70, you’ll receive a $2,640 monthly benefit (before any inflation adjustments). Over the next 18 years, you’ll get about $570,240—or about $42,240 more than you would starting at 66.

“It’s wise to plan for an even longer lifespan, say age 95, when calculating retirement income and needs to help ensure you have an adequate lifetime income stream,” Mr. Kahler said.

If you’ve already filed early, consider a voluntary suspension

The “start, stop, start” (or “voluntary suspension”) rule allows you to begin taking benefits early, stop them at your FRA (by filing a request with the Social Security Administration to suspend benefits), and take advantage of delayed retirement credits until age 70, when you’d begin receiving benefits again. This option can boost your lifetime benefits, and it can help those who begin to collect early but who can’t withdraw their applications—perhaps because they retired early and earn more money in a second career.

During the “stop” period, benefits earn delayed retirement credits. If you suspend your benefits for the full four years before their second “start,” they’d be 32% higher than when you suspended them. The delayed credits will also include the program’s annual cost-of-living adjustments for inflation (if any). Your benefits at age 70 would still be less than if you hadn’t claimed reduced benefits at age 62. But they’d still be much higher than if you hadn’t suspended your benefits at your FRA.

Sometimes starting early makes sense, too

There are times when it just doesn’t make sense to delay filing for Social Security. “If you need the income right away to cover your living expenses, and you don’t have other resources to fill the gap, filing may be your only option,” Ms. Jaconetti said.

Another time you’ll want to file for benefits early is if you have a medical condition or other situation that will shorten your life span. Mr. Kahler said, “Filing early could make the difference for you to be able to enjoy a better quality of life—and even have a bit more in your estate to pass onto loved ones.”

Look at your retirement holistically

Social Security is an important part of your retirement plan, and your strategies for taking it as a single person may require extra consideration. But it’s wise to have additional income streams to flow into your financial bucket anyway.

“Diversification extends past the investments you hold in your portfolio,” Ms. Jaconetti said. “It can include other income sources like real estate holdings and even part-time or project work.”

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