Mary Beth Franklin

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Mary Beth Franklin on what your clients really want when they talk about retirement.

Field testing the retroactive Social Security file-and-suspend strategy

It worked even better than it was supposed to at San Francisco district office

Dec 23, 2013 @ 12:01 am

By Mary Beth Franklin

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I love when readers with whom I consult about tricky Social Security claiming strategies report back to me with results.

In a Dec. 9 blog, I wrote about the Social Security provision that allows retirees who are older than their full retirement age to file a retroactive claim for benefits of as much as six months in arrears.

Nancy Woodall and John Kerns with Meridian Investment Counsel Inc. report that their clients were able to file a retroactive claim allowing the husband, Paul, to file and suspend and his wife, Jane, to claim six months of spousal benefits retroactively. Mr. Kerns accompanied the couple to their appointment at the local Social Security office in San Francisco to monitor their progress.

Not only was their success story welcome news, but they taught me two new tidbits of Social Security-claiming trivia.

“Jane will receive an unexpected bonus,” Mr. Kerns wrote in an e-mail. “Her benefit claim will be treated as though it was made on the day she made the appointment rather than today,” he said. “As she made the appointment in the previous month, she will receive an extra month of benefits.”

Normally, an individual who is older than full retirement age when he or she makes a claim can request a lump sum payment of up to six months of retroactive benefits, beginning with the month they reached full retirement age. But nearly a year had passed since Mr. Kerns' clients, both born in January 1947, had turned 66.

Takeaway No. 1: Booking an appointment online could preserve extra benefits even if your in-person appointment is weeks or months later.

And sometimes the Social Security office you choose can make a difference to your experience and the level of service you might receive. “Jane chose the Chinatown office of Social Security based on Yelp reviews,” Mr. Kerns wrote. “We were very impressed.”

Yelp reviews! Who knew?

Takeaway No. 2: You may have a choice of which Social Security office to visit.

And a final bit of field reconnaissance to tuck away for future reference — a checklist of what to bring to the appointment: photo ID (driver's license), marriage certificate and voided check to set up direct deposit for benefits. If you are filing for benefits as a divorced spouse, you'll also need your divorce decree, and if you're claiming survivor benefits, you'll need a death certificate.

The bottom line of this success story: satisfied readers and clients.

“Many thanks for your help in understanding Social Security-claiming strategies,” Mr. Kerns wrote. “This was successful beyond my hopes.”

I feel like Santa Claus. Merry Christmas to all!

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