Social Security: It's too complicated

When the election is over, Washington will quickly turn to dealing with the debt and the deficit. Well, fighting over it again, at least. Among the most heated topics will be Social Security and how to shore up its strained finances for the long haul.

Social Security is the financial foundation for most retirees. Yet married couples have 567 options for deciding when and how to file for their Social Security benefits, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Let me repeat that: 567 options. Single people have 9.

All the twists and wrinkles mean there are plenty of potential pitfalls. Fill in the paperwork the wrong way and at the wrong time and you’ll end up with a smaller monthly income for life.

Social Security calculators are springing up all over the web to help people. But they are nothing more than a web aid. The Social Security program is just too complicated.

Of course, the program has to take into account divorce, spousal benefits, and so on. As Albert Einstein wisely remarked, "Make things as simple as possible, but not any simpler."

Still, simplification would make a real difference in the lives of America’s future retirees.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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