The maximum Social Security retirement benefit for those of us born in the period from 1943 and 1954 is payable at age 66. That age ratchets up for those born later.

If you choose to retire as early as 62, your monthly benefit will be permanently reduced by five-ninths of 1 percent for the first 36 months that you retire prior to your 66th birthday and five-twelfths for the next 12 months.

As a result, if you retire early at age 62, your benefit would be 75 percent of the amount you would have received had you worked until age 66.

The other side of the coin is that if one elects to defer receipt of Social Security benefits, those amounts increase each year by 8 percent or by 32 percent if one defers until the maximum age of 70.

The plot thickens if you and your spouse both work and are covered under Social Security, since there are survivor benefits built into the Social Security system.

Currently, there are more than 5 million widows receiving Social Security benefits.

A widow(er) is entitled to receive 100 percent of the deceased spouse’s benefit, provided that one waits until their full normal retirement age to collect those benefits.

However, a widow(er) may elect to commence benefits as early as age 60 with a reduced benefit of about 72 percent of the maximum.

Different options produce differing total benefit amounts, so it will pay you to consider your choices carefully if your spouse passes away, and you both qualified for Social Security.

Assume that Jack and Jill wait until their age 66 to claim their benefits, but Jill dies at age 66.

Jack was eligible for $2,000 per month, and if he simply takes that amount each month until he passes at age 85, he would receive $456,000 in total over his remaining lifetime. (We are not assuming any future increases in Social Security).

Had Beth been eligible for $1,600 each month, Jack could have elected to receive that amount from his age 66 until he reached 70, or $76,800 in total payments. At that time, Jack could switch to his own benefit, which would have grown to $2,640 per month, for a total of $475,200 over the next 15 years. So, Jack’s total benefit under this second option would be $552,000, or 21 percent more total retirement income.

The lesson to be learned here is: if the surviving spouse would have been eligible for a greater benefit than the deceased spouse, it may make sense to elect the survivor amount until age 70 and then switch to their own benefit amount.

Kiplinger’s Retirement Report had an interesting article in its November edition regarding dividend paying stocks.

We all know by now that diversification of one’s investment portfolio over several market sectors makes great sense.

The article pointed out that there are attractive stocks in every market sector that have paid and continue to pay consistent dividends. These stocks would be appropriate for those seeking current income with some growth potential.

Among these stocks are: McDonald’s in the consumer discretionary sector, with a 3.3 percent dividend yield; General Mills is a consumer staples favorite, also with a 3.3 percent dividend yield; in the energy sector, Chevron is the world’s fourth largest oil company and after increasing its dividends by 9 percent each year over the last five years, currently provides a 3.2 percent yield; in the financial sector, Blackrock is a huge investment manager with a 3.2 percent dividend yield; in the healthcare sector, Johnson & Johnson, has a 3.6 percent yield; in the industrial sector, Eaton is world’s largest manufacturer of heavy duty truck transmissions and currently provides a 3.4 percent dividend yield.

In the information technology area, Molex is a little known maker and distributor of 100,000-plus electronic components that yields a 3.4 percent dividend rate.

AT&T is a winner in the telecommunication sector with a 4.9 percent dividend yield, and the Southern Company in the utility sector pays a dividend that currently yields 4.3 percent.

Be sure to check with your investment adviser to get his or her opinion before you buy anything.

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Greg Roberts is a certified financial planner with 35 years of financial and estate planning experience.