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Social Security: 3 Important Terms to Know

Today, I am launching the Step By Step Financial blog. The purpose of this blog will be to share ideas and thoughts regarding the financial planning needs of those on the cusp of retirement. The majority of clients we serve here at Step By Step Financial are married couples entering their retirement years.

One of the most significant planning needs for couples at this stage in life is Social Security planning. There are many choices of how you can take your Social Security benefits. I want to address three key terms today. I am not going to go into a long detailed explanation of these terms, however, it is important you have an idea of what they are.

1. Spousal benefit. This is the benefit you will receive based off of your spouse or your ex-spouse's record (if you were married for at least ten years). The spousal benefit is usually 50% of your spouse's benefit.

2. Survivor benefit. For married couples, this is the benefit you will receive upon the death of your spouse. This is usually the greater of your benefit or your spouse's benefit but not both.

3. Individual benefit. This is the benefit you will receive based off of your working history. You can begin receiving your benefit as early as 62 and as late as 70. On average, every year you delay your individual benefit you improve your future annual Social Security benefit by 8%.

Knowing these three key Social Security terms and how they work together will go a long way to determine the best Social Security distribution strategy. It is an example of "you don't know what you don't know" and the lack of knowledge can cost you significant income through the years.