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Hospital to host program on maximizing Social Security benefits

Part of a healthy retirement is having a healthy income, and on Tuesday, March 15, Carroll Hospital will host financial adviser Michael Graci as he helps explain recent changes to Social Security rules to ensure people make the most of their benefits.

"Individuals that might be interested in attending are going to hear about and learn about not only some of the key strategies with regards to when to claim these benefits, but the changes and impact of the law changes, details on spousal benefits, survivor benefits, benefits in divorce, taxation of Social Security and how it all integrates as part of a comprehensive retirement income strategy," said Graci, the director of investment and retirement education at the asset management firm BlackRock.

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The free program, Transforming Social Security into a Winning Retirement Strategy, will begin at 5 p.m. with wine and hors d'oeuvres in Carroll Hospital's Shauck Auditorium at 291 Stoner Ave., Westminster. Carroll Hospital President Leslie Simmons will provide an update on Carroll Hospital operations before turning it over to Graci.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 passed by Congress in October makes a couple of key changes to Social Security that will affect people planning to retire soon, according to Graci, most notably the elimination of the file and suspend strategy. This had previously allowed someone who had reached full retirement age to file for Social Security benefits, and then immediately suspend their benefits, which would in turn allow their spouse to begin collecting a Social Security spousal benefit.

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"By eliminating file and suspend, the requirement now is in order for a spouse to receive that spousal benefit, the other person has to actually be ... receiving the benefit in order for the spouse to collect the spousal benefit," Graci said.

This is significant, he said, because the longer someone delays filing for and receiving Social Security benefits, the more money they will receive during retirement, so that a person filing for benefits as young as possible — 62 years old — will receive less than someone waiting until age 66, and much less than someone who files at 70.

"If someone delays their Social Security between their full retirement age and 70, those benefits get increased at a rate of 8 percent per year using what's called the delayed retirement credit," Graci said. "You could potentially look at someone waiting until 70 to start collecting their benefit, and it could be 32 percent higher than their Social Security benefit at 66."

Combined with file and suspend, this meant a spouse could receive spousal benefits while their partner's benefits, being suspended, increased by 8 percent per year.

That's now going away, Graci said, but there is still a last chance to take advantage if people act quickly.

"They have put in a grandfathering to the file-and-suspend strategy which allows an individual that has reached their full retirement age to put in an application to file and suspend, but they must do it before April 30 of 2016," he said. "You definitely have some time pressure."

If all the talk of retirement ages, strategies and credits is a little confusing, that, according to Graci, is the reason for his presentation.

"With this April 29 deadline fast approaching ... we want to make sure we can get this information out to our clients so they can make this really important decision before that deadline comes into play," he said.

The talk will also cover other changes to Social Security as well as strategies for couples who are too young to take advantage of the grandfather rules.

The bottom line is there is always a lot to think about, Graci said, and filing for Social Security should be a more complicated decision than simply walking into the local Social Security Administration office upon turning 62.

"I think it's really important for folks that are looking at retirement to really consider what the decisions around when to commence their Social Security benefits are," he said. "It's a critical part of comprehensive retirement planning and maybe one of the most important decisions retirees are going to make."

Seats for this talk are limited, and those interested should registered no later than the end of the business day on Wednesday, March 9, by calling 410-871-6200 or sending email to foundation@carrollhospitalcenter.org.

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410-857-3317

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If you go

What: Transforming Social Security into a Winning Retirement Strategy

When: 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 15

Where: Carroll Hospital Shauck Auditorium, 291 Stoner Ave., Westminster

Cost: Free

Seats are limited and those interested in attending should R.S.V.P. by 5 p.m. Wednesday March 9 by calling 410-871-6200, or sending email to foundation@CarrollHospitalCenter.org.

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