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Making Social Security Work with Your Retirement Accounts

Most Americans enter retirement age with access to Social Security benefits. Many people also have Individual Retirement Accounts, including those that were funded by transferring money from workplace 401(k) plans.

One trick to a successful retirement is to make your Social Security benefits coordinate optimally with your Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), says AZ Central in the article “Retirement planning: Connecting the dots between Social Security and IRAs.”

Not everyone takes a step back to think this way.  However, it is a smart thing to do. With proper planning, your retirement could lead to better results for your investments and a better decision on when to take Social Security benefits.

First, viewing Social Security as part of your investment portfolio is easy to do but not that widely followed. If you think of your Social Security benefits as a conservative portion of your overall investment portfolio, it may give you a little leeway to be more aggressive with investments than you might otherwise be. Remember to acknowledge your comfort level with the amount of risk, so you can sleep at night.

Social Security retirement benefits are very low risk, since they pay steady, government backed income with no market fluctuations. You don’t want to make a dramatic portfolio shift based on this, but you might change up your equity exposure by 5% to 10% of your portfolio, assuming that you’ve been risk averse up to now.

If you already have ample growth investments, thinking of Social Security as part of your overall portfolio might give you reason to trim your equity holdings. By using Social Security as your backstop, your investments may not need to work as hard and you don’t have to put yourself in a risky position.

How about tapping IRAs early, to avoid claiming Social Security benefits until as late as possible? It’s not a bad idea, since the payout from Social Security grows at 8% each year you wait, up to age 70. Most retirees start taking Social Security earlier, then get locked into a lower benefit. 

If your income is lower in your 60s, your income taxes will be lower, so the level that your IRA withdrawals will be taxed will also be lower.

What about the stability of Social Security? It’s not certain that Social Security will remain fully funded, without some government intervention. The latest annual report from the Social Security trustees estimates that if no changes are made, the system will be paying most but not all promised benefits by 2034, when the “trust fund” money runs out.  However, as long as Americans are working and payrolls are generating money for Social Security, benefits will be available to pay future retirees.

Reference: AZ Central (Aug. 26, 2018) “Retirement planning: Connecting the dots between Social Security and IRAs”

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