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I Have $1 Million in Savings and a Pension. Should I Delay Social Security and Rely on My 401(k) for 8 Years?

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A man considers delaying Social Security past his full retirement age to increase his eventual benefit.

If you have $1 million in a 401(k) and collect a pension, you may be in a position to delay Social Security until age 70. Doing so can boost your monthly benefit by up to 24%. However, delaying Social Security will mean you’ll have to rely more heavily on your savings for several years and potentially take a large bite out of your nest egg. So is the tradeoff worth it? A financial advisor can review income sources and expenses and help you budget for a comfortable retirement.

Basics of Paying for Retirement

Funding retirement is about having enough income to cover your expenses. You may be ready to retire when your retirement income matches or exceeds your anticipated expenses.

For most people, the secure lifetime benefits from Social Security represent a critical source of retirement income. Additional income may come from pensions, retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs, rental income from investment properties and part-time work.

On the expense side, essentials include housing, food and healthcare. Most people also have discretionary expenditures like transportation, entertainment, recreation, education and travel.

People with enough savings can afford to delay Social Security and use their nest egg to cover living expenses and discretionary spending. While delaying Social Security can increase your eventual benefits, it also means depleting savings faster. Making this decision will require you to consider all of your sources of income as well as factors like taxes, market fluctuations and inflation.

Delaying Social Security: The 8% Annual Boost

Your benefit grows by about 8% annually each year you delay Social Security beyond your full retirement age – up until age 70. So, waiting provides a significantly higher income later. On the flip side, if you claim your benefits before reaching full retirement age, you’ll get less.

For instance, if your benefit is $2,000 per month at full retirement age, claiming at 62 would cut it by 30%, leaving you with just $1,400 per month. Waiting until age 70, on the other hand, would boost your monthly check to around $2,480 per month – a 24% increase.

Financial advisors say it likely makes sense for many retirees to similarly delay taking Social Security if they have other income sources.

“The longer you can defer Social Security, the better because your benefit will grow by 8% annually,” said Jeremy Suschak, a certified financial planner (CFP) and head of business development at DBR & Co. in Pittsburgh. “Delaying also makes sense if expenses are low, debts are paid and assets can reasonably cover expenses.”

In addition, there are multiple benefits to having assets in diversified retirement accounts, says Hao Dang, an accredited investment fiduciary (AIF) and investment strategist with Consilio Wealth Advisors in Seattle.

“The location of assets is important for tax, legal and diversification reasons,” Dang said.

“While most distributions from these accounts qualify as taxable income, the eligible age of penalty-free distributions may be different. The rule of 55 for 401(k)s allows for penalty-free withdrawals if you are no longer at your job. IRAs are limited to 59 ½ or older.”

Talk to a financial advisor today to make a plan for retirement.

Example: $1 Million Saver Who Delays Social Security for 8 Years

A woman reviews her 401(k) as she considers when the best time for claiming Social Security.

While claiming later increases Social Security significantly, deciding whether or not to delay claiming requires figuring out how you’ll pay your bills in the meantime. Consider a 62-year-old with anticipated retirement expenses of $5,000 per month. Like you, he has $1 million in retirement savings earning a 5% annual return.

He also has a pension that provides $700 monthly, or $8,400 annually. This is approximately the average pension benefit, according to a 2022 Census Bureau analysis of older household income sources.

If he takes Social Security at 62, his $1,400 monthly benefit plus his $700 in monthly pension income will add up to $2,100. With $5,000 in expenses every month, he’ll need to withdraw $2,900 a month from his retirement account. And with inflation, that withdrawal will increase over time to maintain the same lifestyle. With this route, he loses roughly $25,000 of his savings to waiting for Social Security – money that could have otherwise been generating investment returns for the long-term.

But if he delays Social Security until 70, he’ll need to withdraw $4,300 from his 401(k) for eight years, which would lower his balance to just over $800,000 by the time he turns 70. At that point, he’ll start collecting Social Security.

A financial advisor can help you understand the pros and cons of your options.

Limitations: Inflation, Market Returns and Longevity

Deciding when to claim Social Security involves contemplating uncertainty. One big risk is that your investment returns may fall short of your assumptions, which means you’ll either have to withdraw less or accept that your money won’t last as long as you anticipated.

Another possibility: Inflation could outpace long-term projections, requiring you to spend more money to maintain your standard of living. Living longer than expected meanwhile, carries its own set of risks. A longer lifespan means more years of retirement to fund.

Making the Call on Delaying Social Security

A woman weighs her options for claiming Social Security at age 62 or delaying them for several years.

If you have substantial retirement savings and a pension, delaying Social Security can pay off. But first, make sure you can afford to fund expenses from savings. Create a retirement budget accounting for all income sources. See if you can meet spending needs on savings alone for several years.

Next, calculate your increased Social Security benefit from delaying. Weigh if the boost is worth shrinking savings for a few years. Finally, consider other factors like spousal benefits, taxes and unknowns like inflation, market volatility and longevity. To make a plan to minimize your taxes and protect your estate, talk to a financial advisor today.

Social Security Planning Tips

  • If you’re unsure when the right time is to claim Social Security, start by estimating how much your benefits would be at different ages. SmartAsset’s Social Security calculator can help you project your benefits based on your income and age at which you plan to start collecting.
  • A financial advisor can help you plan for Social Security. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/ferrantraite, ©iStock.com/Luke Chan, ©iStock.com/FG Trade

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