How to Get Social Security Right, According to a Retirement Expert?

While 89% of American adults are at least “somewhat confident” in their knowledge of Social Security, according to a recent Nationwide survey, only 18% said they were “very confident” of their consciousness.

That has to change, says an expert.

“Be proactive, take control of your future and make this decision right,” Beau Henderson, founder and chief of retirement planning specialist at RichLife Advisors, an Atlanta-based company, told Yahoo Money. “For many households, this is the most important decision to get it right and retire.”

He offered his top tips for taking control of your financial planning and expanding your Social Security knowledge to help your retirement.

Start Social Security plans in 10 years

(Photo: Getty Creative)

(Photo: Getty Creative)

When clients reach their fifties, that’s typical when Henderson said he’s approached with retirement planning at the top of the agenda.

By giving clients the advantage of a 10-year period to make adjustments and forecast Social Security amounts, he finds the transition to the golden years smoother and with fewer financial surprises.

Don’t make retirement decisions based on the decisions of others

Henderson explained that Social Security benefits are so individualized because each household has a different set of variables, along with retirement goals, income and expenses.

Despite each person’s unique circumstances, he still hears from customers that their knowledge is rooted in the actions of “a neighbor, co-worker or brother-in-law,” he said.

“If I’ve done optimization analyzes for 20 households, there will be no rules of thumb that apply across the board,” he said. “Just because someone said you should do it at age X because they did, doesn’t mean it’s good for you.”

Be your own lawyer

(Photo: Getty Creative)(Photo: Getty Creative)

(Photo: Getty Creative)

Rather than being intimidated by the more than 500 possible ways to claim your Social Security benefits, Henderson wants to empower individuals to get the most out of the government program.

The Social Security Administration houses a wealth of knowledge about claiming services, but its capabilities don’t stop at advising Americans on decision-making or warning them that they qualify for additional benefits.

Henderson insists on self-study or meeting with a financial advisor in the years leading up to retirement to develop a strategy that works best for you.

“I’ve never heard of Social Security calling someone to tell them there’s $80,000 more they qualify for and then tell them how to claim it,” he said. “It’s up to you to know what applies to you.”

Yahoo Money sister site Cashay has a weekly newsletter.Yahoo Money sister site Cashay has a weekly newsletter.

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Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Dinner, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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