There are 576 ways to collect Social Security. The option you pick will have a direct impact on your spouse.

I have sat with clients on countless occasions where one or both spouses have told me defiantly, “I am taking Social Security at 62 because [fill in the blank].” Common rationales include:

“The system is going broke.”
“I’m going to be dead by 75.”
“I need the money.”

But in most cases a more accurate statement by the client taking benefits early would be: “I am taking Social Security at 62 because I don’t understand the rules.” It’s no wonder. There are 567 different ways to collect Social Security. That three-digit number is not a typo. Meantime, the number of employees available to help you is shrinking, and, by policy, they can’t give advice. You, as an individual, may never regret taking benefits early, but your surviving spouse won’t be thrilled when inheriting your reduced benefits.

If you turn on the TV, listen to the radio or read the newspaper, odds are the news you’re hearing about Social Security is not upbeat. And yes, I agree, Social Security will face strain over the next few decades as 10,000 Baby Boomers hit 65 every day and the number of workers per retiree continues to decline. According to the Social Security Administration’s 2016 trustee report, the reserves will run dry in 2035. Beyond that, payroll taxes will be able to pay out 77% of scheduled benefits. But let’s not panic. It would take only a small adjustment to the tax rate, wage base or full retirement age to solve this problem.

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