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    Retirement planning? Tips for getting the most out of Social Security

    The majority of Americans support continuing the Social Security program, even if they are decades away from drawing benefits, a 2010 survey by AARP found. Nevertheless, with the program’s future financial viability an ongoing subject of political debate, many people may undervalue the role Social Security can play in their retirement planning.

    “For years, financial services companies have downplayed the role of Social Security in bolstering financial security in retirement,” writes James Mahaney, vice president of Strategic Initiatives for Prudential, in the white paper “Innovative Strategies to Help Maximize Social Security Benefits.” “However, considering the increased financial risks retirees now shoulder, the tax preferences that Social Security receives, and the income options that Social Security now offers, a strong argument can be made that Social Security should play a greater role in a retiree’s financial planning.”

    Each day, 10,000 Americans reach retirement age. With people living longer and fewer companies offering pensions, saving for retirement has become even more important for today’s workers. Yet, retirement savings rates remain low.

    Social Security offers “regular income that is guaranteed to increase over time and continue for as long as you live,” Mahaney writes. “No other (retirement) vehicle can match the combination of inflation-fighting increases, longevity protection, investment risk elimination, and spousal coverage that Social Security can (offer).”

    With Social Security accounting for approximately 40 percent of income for the average retiree, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, it makes sense to take steps to maximize potential Social Security benefits, Mahaney advises.

    While most Americans realize they accrue Social Security benefits throughout their careers, many may be unaware that they can influence the amount they will receive upon retirement. Retirees can help maximize their Social Security benefits by avoiding four costly – and common – mistakes:

    * Don’t underestimate the real value of Social Security.

    * Don’t rush to collect Social Security – and then regret the reduced benefits for the rest of your life.

    * Don’t overlook the various ways married couples can integrate their benefits.

    * Don’t get blindsided by taxes.

    Claiming benefits as soon as they’re eligible is a common mistake that can cost retirees tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetime. Although most everyone becomes eligible for benefits at age 62, delaying benefits until you reach Full Retirement Age (which varies depending on your birth year) or later may help ensure you receive the maximum amount you qualify for.

    “Retirees often apply for Social Security benefits early,” Mahaney writes. “Most certainly didn’t stop to think that … they could have potentially doubled their initial payments if only they had waited until age 70.”

    Another common mistake is forgetting that when you retire, the income received from IRA withdrawals often causes Social Security benefits to become taxed as well. Since Social Security income is taxed differently than IRA income, you can often reduce your taxes by choosing higher Social Security income and lower IRA withdrawals.

    It’s never too early – or too late – to plan for retirement, experts agree. Talk to your financial advisor about your retirement strategy and how Social Security fits into it. You can also read the Prudential white paper, “Innovative Strategies to Help Maximize Social Security Benefits,” online at

    “It’s all about choices,” Mahaney concludes. “Those who understand how to evaluate their choices and optimize their decisions will be the ones to enjoy a more secure retirement. A larger amount of Social Security within a retirement income strategy may, indeed, be the golden ticket to the golden years.”

    Prudential Financial, its affiliates, and their financial professionals do not render tax or legal advice. Please consult with your tax and legal advisors regarding your personal circumstances.

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