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When I decided to restore a Triumph TR6 convertible, I was confident I knew what I was doing. So it needed a little work (okay, a lot of work). But when I pictured myself cruising around with the top down, I was definitely up for it. What I didn’t picture was breaking down in the local YMCA’s parking lot and having to call a special—and more expensive—tow truck for hauling that type of car.

I later connected with a local group of Triumph enthusiasts who taught me things that, even with my knowledge of cars, I wouldn’t have known. Had I connected with them during the buying process, I would’ve done things a lot differently. I just didn’t have the experience yet.

Similarly, experience can be critically important when your pre-retiree clients are making decisions about their Social Security retirement benefits. These clients might think they know what to do, but it’s difficult to anticipate the long-term consequences of their decisions. Fortunately, you can help them avoid these consequences by sharing the lessons that other clients have learned.

 

Why others’ experience is valuable

Some clients may ask, “Should I start taking Social Security early when I turn 62? Or 67? Or should I wait until 70? What about my spouse?” Others might think, “Will Social Security benefits even be available in the future? I paid into the program. I’m going to start collecting as soon as I can.” I hear questions like these from clients all the time. I can give them “the numbers” and how hypothetical scenarios can potentially play out. But the numbers answer doesn’t always provide the clarity they need.

I’ve found that sharing stories about people who’ve already made Social Security decisions and have experienced the ramifications, good or bad, is more effective. Their experiences can paint a clearer picture of the impact of certain decisions and how they felt about them afterwards, e.g., happy, satisfied, or regretful.

These real-life stories can provide context and perspective for clients who will soon be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, and help them make more informed choices.

You’ve likely talked to clients about their Social Security experiences. But you probably haven’t considered how valuable these stories can be, especially when it comes to educating other clients nearing retirement. So how do you find Social Security stories to share?

 

Second, How to Gather Real-Life Stories

To get started, identify a few clients who’ve begun taking Social Security. Focus on the clients you think would be willing to share their story with you. Before reaching out to them, be prepared to explain what you’re trying to accomplish: gathering stories from clients who’ve been through the process to provide additional guidance to those who are just beginning to think about Social Security.

The questions below can help you discover your clients’ stories. You don’t have to bombard these clients by asking all of them at once. You can prioritize the questions that you think will be most helpful initially.

  • When did you start collecting benefits?
  • How do you feel about your decision?
  • What were the pros of your choice? Were there any cons?
  • Looking back, would you do anything differently?
  • What or who were the best resources?
  • Did you include your tax professional, etc. in your decision?
  • What advice would you give to others who may be making Social Security decisions soon?

Take good notes, paying special attention to examples related to claiming benefits early vs. later, working while collecting benefits, or how taxes came into play. You don’t need to have a lot of stories, just a few solid examples that illustrate the pros and cons of retired clients’ different choices. Assure them that you won’t disclose their identity when sharing their experiences. These stories are only being used to help educate your clients.

 

Third, How to Share Client Experiences

You may find great opportunities to share these stories as client questions about Social Security come up. Or suppose you’re talking to a couple who are weighing their options and recall a story that resembles their particular situation. You might say, “Your situation is similar to another couple who are clients of mine. Here’s what they chose to do.” You can further explain, “I’m not positioning their choices as right or wrong. I’m simply giving you food for thought.”

Or imagine you have a client who wants to file as early as possible, and you’re concerned that it may not be the best option for them. You could share a story of another client who was on the verge of making the same choice, but ended up waiting and is glad they did. On the other hand, you may hear a story from a client who thought they’d wait, but instead filed as soon as they were eligible. This allowed them to leave the workforce a bit earlier and enjoy spending time with their new grandchild.

 

My Aunt and Uncle Could Have Benefited From Hearing a Real-Life Story

They both retired early, before turning 60. Even though I asked them to reconsider, they decided to start collecting their benefits as soon as they turned 62—and they didn’t even need to. It was like extra money at first, but then it became something they depended on. At 80 years old, their biggest complaint is how little they get from Social Security. They weren’t aware that taxes and other income could reduce their Social Security income. They also didn’t anticipate they’d still be as healthy and active as they are today.

Having a pool of stories like this available, about people your clients can identify with, may be one of your most valuable resources to help clients who are wrestling with Social Security decisions.

 

Some Storytellers May Want to Speak for Themselves

As you’re gathering clients’ Social Security stories, ask them if they’d be interested in helping others by telling them what they learned. If they’re willing, when the need arises, you can match these “storytellers” with clients who could benefit from hearing their real-life experience. Hearing storytellers’ experiences can help pre-retirees imagine future scenarios and possibilities by hearing it straight from the source.

 

“Can’t I Just Refer My Clients to ssa.gov?”

While the Social Security Administration’s website does provide essential information like basic facts, figures, and definitions, they’re almost incomplete as compared to personal examples. They’re not as compelling as someone’s story—a real-life scenario that can really resonate with the listener.

For example, a while ago I was giving a Social Security presentation where I’d invited a retired couple on stage to share their Social Security experience. The couple talked about what they did and, if they could do things over again, what they’d do differently. Their story made the event especially powerful. Several clients came up to me afterward to share how much they enjoyed hearing about this couple’s experience.

 

Remember These Three Things About Sharing Real-Life Social Security Stories

First, your pre-retiree clients may think they know the right Social Security decisions to make. But even if they know the numbers, the numbers don’t show the big picture. Second, those who’ve been through the decision-making process and experienced the outcomes or, the storytellers, can provide valuable insight. Third, sharing the real-life experiences of Social Security storytellers can help clients gain a deeper understanding of how certain decisions about Social Security may affect them later.

 

Experience Can Be the Best Teacher

A lot can be learned from other people’s experiences and, sometimes, they keep us from having to learn something the hard way—like I did with my Triumph. Eventually I was able to stop the headaches and the spending that came with owning the car by donating it. But one of the challenges of Social Security is that no one gets a practice run—and once you make a decision, it’s not easy to turn back. So start gathering real-life stories to help guide clients as they’re making their own Social Security decisions.

Please note: Clients’ Social Security stories are not to be construed as advice. They’re scenarios for pre-retirees to consider, if they choose, during their own decision-making process.

 


Author Headshot
Retirement Activist

Mike is a managing director of the Hartford Funds Applied Insights Team. The team translates the expertise of the psychologists, physiologists, professors, and practice-management experts we partner with into practical, actionable ideas and tools to make sense of a rapidly evolving market and demographic landscape.

Next Steps

1 Choose three clients or couples who are over 65 and collecting Social Security benefits
2 Call and ask these clients questions about their experience
3 Ask if they’d be interested in helping other clients by sharing their Social Security story

Learn three main factors that can impact Social Security benefits > 

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This article is based off of our popular Social Security: Unlock Its Potential module. Click here to access additional content to share.

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