Money » How To Save » How To Maximize Your Social Security Benefits
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How To Maximize Your Social Security Benefits

In the current social security coinditions, you can choose to take your money at the earliest time possible, the latest time possible or at your full retirement age. How does it work and is there a proven way to maximize your benefits?
Author: Russell White
Russell White

Writer, Contributor

Experience

As a finance geek and Content editor with 13 years of journalism experience, Russell makes sure every article has the right flow, edits for accuracy, and consumer value. In addition, Russell contributes his own ideas about budgeting, savings, and credit cards.

Review & Fact Check: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Financial Expert, The Smart Investor CEO

Experience

Baruch Mann (Silvermann) is a financial expert and founder of The Smart Investor. Above all, he is passionate about teaching people how to manage their money and helping millions on their journey to a better financial future.
Author: Russell White
Russell White

Writer, Contributor

Experience

As a finance geek and Content editor with 13 years of journalism experience, Russell makes sure every article has the right flow, edits for accuracy, and consumer value. In addition, Russell contributes his own ideas about budgeting, savings, and credit cards.

Review & Fact Check: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Financial Expert, The Smart Investor CEO

Experience

Baruch Mann (Silvermann) is a financial expert and founder of The Smart Investor. Above all, he is passionate about teaching people how to manage their money and helping millions on their journey to a better financial future.

We earn a commission from our partner links on this page. It doesn't affect the integrity of our unbiased, independent editorial staff. Transparency is a core value for us, read our advertiser disclosure and how we make money.

Table Of Content

When it comes to your retirement Social Security is probably one of your big plans for the future.

For millions of Americans, saving for retirement is becoming increasingly difficult. Many workers do not have access to a pension, rising living costs make retirement more expensive than ever, and student loans and other forms of debt make it difficult to save.

But if you’re not paying attention to the options that are available to you then you might be in a bit more trouble than you think. That’s mainly because people tend not to realize the options – so take a look at what’s really on the table. 

Evaluating the Monthly Benefit

The Social Security Retirement Estimator is one of the best ways that you can figure out your expected social security. The overall formula is about the 35 years where you earned the most money and then this formula looks at inflation through age 59.

Now, many people like to minimize the amount of income that they have to pay taxes on, but that’s not necessarily the best way. That’s because you want to have more income in order to get even more money from your social security.

Another important aspect is to continue working a little longer than you might think, up to age 60 and beyond. That’s because if you’re earning more money later on you could actually be increasing the amount of benefits that you’re able to receive, and that’s definitely something you want to be careful and knowledgeable about.

What Income Reduces Social Security Benefits?

If you file a federal tax return as an individual and your income is between $25,000 to $34,000, you might need to pay income tax on up to 50% of your benefits. If you make more than $34,000, you will need to pay up to 85% of your benefits.

If you are filing a joint return, you and your spouse might have to pay up to 50% of your benefits if your income is between $32,000 to $44,000. If it’s more than $44,000, you will need to pay up to 85% of your social security benefits to taxes.

What Happens to My Social Security Benefits If I Die?

When you die, your social security benefits don’t just disappear. Some of the benefits will still be paid to widows and dependents of eligible workers.  Usually, your spouse, children, and parents could be eligible for benefits based on your earnings. The deceased person must have worked long enough for you to qualify for benefits though.

Keep in mind that your loved ones cannot apply for survivors benefits online. Usually, the funeral home will need to report it and you will need to visit an office in person.

Should I Defer Social Security Benefits?

This depends on your financial situation. Most of the time, it’s not recommended that you delay taking benefits past 70 as you might not be able to take all of it out. If you are still working and making good money, you might want to delay taking out benefits so that you don’t get taxed on them.

You can wait until you stop working and aren’t making as much money to take your social security and then you will be able to take them without taxes.

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7 Ways You Can Increase Your Monthly Benefit

Okay, so there aren’t any specific ‘get-rich-quick’ options to increase your benefits, but you can get a little more. You can optimize your benefits and you can even boost the amount that you earn through different strategies in the future. So, what should you be doing to make sure you don’t have too much life at the end of your income?

1. Wait Until You Hit Full Retirement Age

There may be reasons that you have to sign up for your retirement and social security benefits before you actually get to your full age.

If you don’t have enough to cover your expenses or if you aren’t healthy and you have to stop working you may not be able to wait until full retirement age to get your benefits. That’s because the full age is actually 67, with benefits available starting at age 62. Even worse, if you start taking your benefits early you could lose out on as much as 30% of the money each month.

The way it works is this: from age 62, when you can start getting benefits, until age 67, where you get full benefits, your amount increases slightly. That means, if you take your benefits at age 62 you’re going to get less money than if you wait until you’re 63.

If you take your benefits at 63 you’re going to get less money than if you wait until you’re 64, and so on. If you can delay signing up you’re going to be eligible for more money and that actually continues past your full retirement age. It continues to age 70.

If you take a look at the table here you’ll see just how much your benefits can change depending on just when you decide to take your benefits and sign up for social security. If you start at age 62 you’re going to get 25% less. On the other hand, if you wait until you’re 70 you could get 32% more than that. It’s definitely going to be a great benefit for you overall.

 Start at 62Start at Full Retirement Age (67 years)Start at 70
Monthly Benefit$1,125$1,500$1,980
Yearly Benefit$13,500$18,000$23,760
Aggregate Benefits Paid Through age 85$310,500$324,000$356,400

2. Put in the Time

You’ll get benefits based on your highest-earning 35 years.

On the other hand, you don’t have to work for 35 years. You could work as little as 10 years and you can still get benefits that start between 62 and 70. But the amount that you get is based on the 35 years that you earned the most.

If you only worked for 10 years or anything less than the 35 max you’re going to have a whole lot of places where a 0 will be added in. That means you’re getting a much lower average than someone who worked for 35 years but never made more than your lowest year.

What Happens If You Suspend Your Social Security Benefits?

If you suspend your benefits, you will not receive any checks during the suspension. You can suspend checks until you are 70. They will automatically start to be paid again when you are 70 and you will not have the option to suspend them again.

If you suspend them and you want to start getting them again before you turn 70, you can visit your local office or call the office to say you want to resume payments.

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3. Put in Extra Time

If you retire at age 62 you could end up with benefits that are lower than your max. They could be between 25% and 30% lower and that amount goes up only slightly as you get older. If you were born in 1942 you get full benefits at 66. Starting in 1954 the age adds an extra 2 months until you get to 1960, where full benefits don’t kick in until you get to 67.

If you continue to work a little bit longer you can actually increase the amount of money you’re bringing in and put off when you need to take those social security benefits.

If you work at least until you can get full benefits you’re going to be better off. You could even try to get a raise or get additional money from a second job to try and get this year into your top 35 to make even more money. If you continue to wait longer to take the money you could actually get delayed retirement credits to increase your rate even further.

4. Use Spousal Benefits

You can actually be entitled to your spouse’s social security benefits if you have a spouse who has earned more money than you. And it won’t affect the money that they’re getting from social security.

What’s even better is you can even get your ex-spouses social security as long as you were married at least 10 years and you haven’t remarried. If you’re a widow or widower you also have the option of taking your spouses social security instead of your own.

Now, if your spouse has applied for social security already and you’re at least 62 you can apply for their benefits. Then, you can get 50% of their benefit amount. If you apply before you reach your own full retirement age you’re going to have a lower amount and you’re going to get a smaller share overall.

If you’re married it might be a benefit for the lowest wage earner to apply first and then to take the higher wage earners money only after they reach the full retirement age. That allows the couple to have some money coming in, but doesn’t waste that 30% of the higher wage earners social security benefits.

If My Spouse Dies, Can I Collect Their Social Security Benefits?

When a Social Security beneficiary passes away, his or her surviving spouse is entitled to survivor benefits. If the surviving spouse has reached full retirement age, he or she can collect 100 percent of the late spouse's benefit; however, the amount will be lower if the deceased spouse claimed benefits before reaching full retirement age. (The full retirement age for survivor benefits differs from the full retirement age for retirement and spousal benefits; it is currently 66 but will gradually increase to 67 over the next few years.)

If you were receiving spousal benefits on the deceased's work record, Social Security will usually switch you to survivor benefits when the death is reported.

5. Make a Plan

You can take a closer look at how much you’re going to be eligible for on a social security calculator.

There are plenty of them online and they can even help you better understand your different options and how you can get the most money. Then, you’ll want to start paying attention to your other retirement options and your assets and expenses to get a good idea of what you’re going to need and have in retirement.

How Much do High-Income Earners Receive From Social Security?

It is uncommon for American workers to earn more than the Social Security wage base limit over the course of their careers. Typically, one will begin with lower-paying jobs and work their way up to higher-paying jobs over the course of a career.

Because the Social Security Administration considers your earnings over your 35 highest-earning years, many people will have some of their early low-income years counted in their work history, lowering average monthly earnings.

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6. Keep Watch for Problems

It’s important that your earnings record is accurate so that when you do get to retirement age and you’re ready to take those benefits you actually get the highest amount that you possibly can. If the Social Security Administration doesn’t do their job exactly right, however, you could end up with false information in your earnings history.

That means you could end up with a lower payment than you were expecting. That’s why it’s so important that you look at your Social Security earnings statement every year and correct the problems that you see. If you had an income of $85,000 and the earnings statement shows only $79,000 you want to notify them immediately to get it fixed.

Now, make sure you keep an eye on this even if you’re not yet 60. His can be more difficult because the Social Security Administration won’t mail you the documents. You need to create your own account and then keep track for yourself. Just make sure that you look at every year you’ve been working to make sure that you correct errors as soon as possible.

You get a total of 3 years, 3 months and 15 days to make a correction after the year that the problem is found and you don’t want to miss it.

7. Know the Taxes

When you retire there are a whole bunch of different tax benefits associated.

You could end up with taxes both federally and through the state when you collect social security. If you are single and you get between $25,000 and $34,000 you could be taxed on up to 50% of those benefits. If you’re filing joint you could be taxed if you make between $32,000 and $44,000.

With a Roth IRA, you can actually get more money saved away for retirement, which is great for your income. You don’t have to pay taxes on it when you withdraw because you’ve already paid taxes when you put the money in, so it’s going to be a great way to keep your income at the right threshold.

If you make more than $34,000 on your own or more than $44,000 as a joint return you could also be subject to up to 85% income taxes. That means you’re really going to want to keep your taxable income down so you can keep your money instead of letting the government take it all.

Can You Get Social Security Even if You've Never Worked?

To be eligible for Social Security benefits, you must have worked and paid payroll taxes for at least ten years. There are, however, a few ways to collect benefits even if you've never worked a day in your life.

  • Benefits for spouses – if your spouse is eligible for Social Security benefits, you may be eligible as well based on his or her work history – even if you've never worked. With spousal benefits, you can receive up to 50% of the amount your spouse is entitled to receive if he or she claims at full retirement age (FRA). Spousal benefits have no bearing on the amount your spouse will receive. In other words, if you claim spousal benefits based on your spouse's work record, he or she will not receive less money each month.
  • Advantages of divorce – divorce benefits are similar to spousal benefits, but they are only available to people who are no longer married. To be eligible for divorce benefits, your marriage must have lasted at least ten years and you cannot be married right now.
    As with spousal benefits, the maximum amount you can receive is half of what your ex-spouse can receive at his or her FRA.
  • Beneficiaries for survivors – if you are financially dependent on another person and that person dies, you may be eligible for survivors benefits. After the death of a spouse, widows and widowers are generally entitled to survivors benefits. Survivor benefits, on the other hand, are sometimes available to parents, children, divorced spouses, and other family members.

FAQs

The easiest way to apply for social security is by doing it online. This way you don’t have to wait on hold on the phone for someone to speak with. If you don’t want to apply online though, you can call the toll-free line at 1-800-772-1213. You can also visit your local security office.

If you need to apply from outside the US, you can visit a US Embassy or consulate. Make sure you have all your information together, so you won’t have to make multiple trips.

Only some people need to pay federal income taxes on social security benefits. You usually only get taxed if you have substantial income in addition to your benefits. This could be in the form of wages, self-employment, interest, or dividends.

You will need to use your Benefit Statement when you complete your federal tax returns to see which, if any, of the money is taxable.

Non-US citizens can qualify for social security benefits if they have been working legally in the United States. Just like citizens, they need to have about 10 years of work put in or 40 work credits to become eligible for social security benefits.

Some countries also have a totalization agreement with the United States, which means you can combine the credits you have from your home country with the credits you have earned in the United States.

Social security works the same as paychecks you have received throughout your life. You earn the money one week or one month and then you don’t get the paycheck for them until the next month. The payday is usually the day of the month you were born.

If they are paid a month behind, they aren’t considered late. If you don’t receive your payments, you might need to make sure the office has the right address and correct information on file to send you the checks.

In most cases, your social security benefits will go to your spouses and dependents when you pass away. This doesn’t always happen automatically though. Your dependents will need to file paperwork and the social security office will need an official report about the death, such as from a funeral home.

It might also take a few months for you to start getting benefits from the time the papers are filed.