Investor Toolkit

Bungling this retirement decision could cost you $300,000

Key Points
  • Wealth manager Ron Carson estimates retirees collectively leave $10 billion in unclaimed Social Security benefits on the table each year.
  • The difference between your best and worst claiming strategies can add up to $300,000 over a lifetime, he says.
Optimize your Social Security benefits
Optimize your Social Security benefits

Picking the wrong Social Security claiming strategy could cost you, big time.

"This is the single-largest asset many consumers have, and they're not optimizing it, they're not getting the maximum income from it," certified financial planner Ron Carson, founder and CEO of Carson Wealth Management Group, told CNBC.

By his estimates, retirees collectively leave $10 billion in Social Security benefits unclaimed each year with the wrong strategies — claiming too early, missing spousal benefits and so on.

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"The difference between your best and your worst option may in fact be up to $300,000 [over your lifetime]," Carson explained.

A misstep is especially damaging, considering how many retirees count on that check for the bulk of their income. Social Security benefits account for at least half of income for 50 percent of married couples and 71 percent of unmarried individuals, according to government statistics. For 23 percent of married couples and 43 percent of unmarried individuals, those benefits represent 90 percent or more of income.

Carson suggests working with an advisor who can use software to run Social Security projections and help assess the best claiming strategies within the larger context of your financial picture, goals and objectives. It can also help to keep tabs on your Social Security account while working, to make sure your earnings history is accurate and avoid having a zero-income year included in the calculation.