Why It May Be Better to Delay Taking Social Security

22 August 2011 No Comment Print This Post Email This Post

Folks who have retired or are preparing to retire before the Social Security Full Retirement Age (FRA) face a dilemma if they have IRA assets available.  Specifically, is it better to take an income from the IRA account during the years prior to FRA (or age 70) in order to receive a larger Social Security benefit; or should they preserve IRA assets by taking the reduced Social Security benefits at age 62?

At face value, given the nature of IRA assets, it seems like the best method would be to preserve the IRA’s tax-deferral on those assets, even though it means that your Social Security benefit will be reduced.

If you look at the taxation of Social Security benefits though, you might discover that delaying receipt of your Social Security will provide a much more tax effective income later in life.  In the tables below I’ll work through the numbers to illustrate what I’m talking about.

Example

For our example, we have an individual who has a pre-tax income requirement of $75,000 per year.  The individual has significant IRA assets available.  If he takes Social Security at age 62, he will receive $22,500 per year.  Delaying Social Security benefits to FRA would get him $30,000; waiting until age 70 would provide a benefit of $39,600 per year.  In tables below we show what the tax impact would be for using Social Security at age 62, FRA, and age 70.  In each case the required income is always $75,000.

Table 1 – taking Social Security benefit at age 62:

IRA SS Tax
62 $ 52,500 $ 22,500 $ 9,556
63 $ 52,500 $ 22,500 $ 9,556
64 $ 52,500 $ 22,500 $ 9,556
65 $ 52,500 $ 22,500 $ 9,556
66 $ 52,500 $ 22,500 $ 9,556
90 $ 52,500 $ 22,500 $ 9,556
Totals $ 1,522,500 $ 652,500 $ 277,113

Table 2 – taking Social Security benefit at age 66:

IRA SS Tax
62 $ 75,000 $ 0 $ 11,113
63 $ 75,000 $ 0 $ 11,113
64 $ 75,000 $ 0 $ 11,113
65 $ 75,000 $ 0 $ 11,113
66 $ 45,000 $ 30,000 $ 7,953
90 $ 45,000 $ 30,000 $ 7,953
Totals $ 1,425,000 $ 750,000 $ 243,263

Table 3 – taking Social Security benefit at age 70:

IRA SS Tax
62 $ 75,000 $ 0 $ 11,113
63 $ 75,000 $ 0 $ 11,113
64 $ 75,000 $ 0 $ 11,113
65 $ 75,000 $ 0 $ 11,113
66 $ 75,000 $ 0 $ 11,113
67 $ 75,000 $ 0 $ 11,113
68 $ 75,000 $ 0 $ 11,113
69 $ 75,000 $ 0 $ 11,113
70 $ 35,400 $ 39,600 $ 5,901
90 $ 35,400 $ 39,600 $ 5,901
Totals $ 1,343,400 $ 831,600 $ 212,811

The difference that you see in the tables is due to the fact that Social Security benefits are at most taxed at an 85% rate. With that in mind, the larger the portion of your required income that you can have covered by Social Security, the better.  At this income level, the rate is even less, only 85% of the amount above the $44,000 base (provisional income plus half of the Social Security benefit). This results in almost $34,000 less in taxes paid over the 29-year period illustrated by delaying to age FRA, and nearly $65,000 less in taxes by delaying to age 70.

Note: at higher income levels, this differential will be less significant, but still results in a tax savings by delaying.  It should also be noted that COLAs were not factored in, nor was inflation – these factors were eliminated to reduce complexity of the calculations.  In addition, in calculating the tax, deductions and exemptions were not included.

This is to assume that the individual has the available IRA assets to allow for the early use of the funds, although in the end result, delaying to age 70 required less of a total outlay from the IRA, by nearly $180,000, in addition to the tax savings.

The Results

Hands down, this is a very significant reason to delay receiving Social Security benefits at least to FRA, and even more reason to delay to age 70.  The only factor working against this strategy would be an early, untimely death, especially if the individual in question is not married.  In that case the IRA assets would have been used up much more quickly than necessary, and no surviving spouse is available to carry on with the Social Security survivor benefit.