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Secrets to Boost Your Social Security Benefits

In 1935, Social Security was designed as a backup source of income, and it wasn't meant to be the primary income source for retirees. But times have changed, and so have strategies to maximize your Social Security retirement benefits.

Let’s explore some straightforward ways to make the most out of your Social Security checks:

1. Work at Least 35 Years

Work for at least 35 years to maximize your Social Security. How much you get from Social Security depends on the years during which you earn the most money. Your payout decreases if you haven’t worked for at least 35 years.

If you work for more than 35 years, a year with higher earnings will cancel out a year with lower earnings when figuring out your Social Security income.

2. Work Until Your Full Retirement Age

You can file for benefits payments as early as age 62. But, consider waiting until your full retirement age for bigger checks. If you claim Social Security early and still continue to work, you will be penalized after earning a particular amount of money ($22,320 in 2024).

However, once you reach full retirement age, you can work and get Social Security without a penalty. The SSA will recalculate your benefits to account for delayed past benefit payments and continued earnings.

3. Patience Pays Off

You don’t have to claim your Social Security benefit immediately if you don’t need the money. If you delay your payments past your full retirement age and wait longer, you may become eligible for delayed retirement credits that increase your monthly payment. Every year you wait, up to age 70, earns an 8% increase in payments.

4. Maximize Spousal Benefit Payments

If you're married, you can strategize to get more benefits out of Social Security. Spouses who don’t make as much money as their partner might get more from a spousal benefit than from their own retirement benefit. You can get up to half of what the person who makes more money receives when they reach full retirement age.

5. Divorced Benefit Payments

If you’re not married right now but were previously married for at least 10 years, you may qualify for spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record.

If your ex-spouse died and you were married for at least 10 years, you may get up to 100 percent of their survivor benefits.

6. Children's Benefit Payments

If you're retired and have dependent kids under 19, they might be eligible for benefits based on your record. Those who are eligible may get up to half of a parent’s full retirement income, up to certain limits, each year.

Usually, eligible kids must be younger than 18, single, in full-time high school until 19 years old, or have incurred a serious disability before they turned 22.

7. Boost Your Earnings

Earning more can secure a better financial future. If you consistently meet the maximum taxable earnings, you might qualify for Social Security’s highest benefit. This may not prove achievable for many workers. That’s why it’s crucial to pursue any number of other strategies that can help boost your retirement income.

For example, waiting until full retirement age to file means you’ll be paying more Social Security tax over time. Paying a bit more in taxes could later lead to a steady stream of higher income that considers inflation and helps to settle debt, pay for education, and meet household emergencies.

8. Trim Your Taxes

Manage your Social Security taxes wisely. To get the most out of your retirement income and lower these taxes, there are plans you can pursue ahead of time to help reduce your combined income. For example, this might include having a Roth IRA from which to withdraw income, tax free, during retirement. At a certain age, you may also consider making a charitable donation from your IRA. A qualified financial planner can assist you in figuring out a range of strategies that will best suit your situation.

9. Second Thoughts? Withdraw Your Application!

You may not have realized that filing early for Social Security would ultimately reduce your benefits. No worries - you can withdraw your Social Security application within the first year. You must do so in writing and pay back all the benefits you’ve earned. Note that you can only do this once.

10. Check, Double-Check

Review your Social Security records regularly. Ensure your earnings history is accurate to avoid surprises.

Attorney Loretta Kilday has over 36 years of litigation and transactional experience, specializing in business, collection, and family law. She frequently writes on various financial and legal matters. She is a graduate of DePaul University with a Juris Doctor degree and a spokesperson for Debt Consolidation Care (DebtCC) online debt relief forum.