Underestimating senior living costs is a common mistake people make in the course of retirement planning. It’s easy to assume that once you stop working, you’ll start spending a lot less, especially since you’ll have an open schedule that doesn’t revolve around a job.
But many seniors learn the hard way that retirement costs more than anticipated. While not having to report to work does mean shedding certain expenses, like commuting, it also means spending more time at home and having more hours to fill. That could easily result in needing more money for things like utilities and activities.
That’s why it’s so important to file for Social Security strategically. Filing too soon could leave you with a lower benefit — one that doesn’t end up cutting it in the context of your total expenses.
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But what if you’ve already gone and filed for Social Security early? You might assume that you’re now stuck with the monthly benefit you’ve locked in.
The good news is that you may have the option to grab a higher monthly benefit. The bad news, however, is that undoing your Social Security filing to raise your benefit may not be so easy.
You get a second chance
If you’re unhappy with your monthly Social Security benefit, you’re not necessarily stuck with it for life. But if you want to raise that benefit, you’ll need to act quickly.
Once you claim Social Security, you get one opportunity in your lifetime to undo your filing and sign up for benefits again at a later age, at which point you should be entitled to more money on a monthly basis. But to take advantage of that option, you’ll need to do two things.
First, you’ll have to withdraw your application for benefits within a year of putting it in. So if it’s been 10 months since you started collecting Social Security, now’s not the time to hem and haw.
The even trickier part of the equation, however, involves repaying the Social Security Administration all of the money it’s paid you to date. If you don’t repay all of your benefits within a year, you can’t undo your filing.
If you have savings to tap, repaying those benefits may be doable. But if you don’t have savings and you’ve already spent that money, things get tougher.
In that situation, you might still have some options, though. If you own your home, you can potentially repay your Social Security benefits with the proceeds from a home equity loan or line of credit. And if you have some valuable assets you’re willing to part with — say, artwork worth a fair amount of money — you can sell them to scrounge up the cash.
Don’t settle for a benefit that will leave you cash-strapped
If you realize early on in retirement that you’ve misjudged your costs and your current monthly Social Security benefit won’t cut it, then it’s definitely worth investigating if undoing your claim is an option. You could, conceivably, end up collecting a monthly benefit from Social Security for the next 30 years of your life or more. The last thing you’ll want is a benefit you know won’t lead to the lifestyle you’re hoping to maintain.
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