Social Security is a vital income source for many retirees. There's so much to know about Social Security, it's difficult to know where to start. Whether you're trying to maximize your benefits or simply want to get a feel for where Social Security is heading, here are 10 things you should know.

Your Full Retirement Age

Full retirement age is the age at which you can receive full benefits. If you take benefits before you reach full retirement age, you'll lose out on quite a bit of income. Check out Retirement Planner: Full Retirement Age, a page from the Social Security Administration, to discover your full retirement age. (For more, see: Calculating Your Social Security Break-Even Age.)

You Might Be Able to Take a Survivor Benefit

In the case that your spouse passes away, you may be eligible for survivor benefits. Be sure to check the Social Security Administration's downloadable document: Survivor Benefits.

Know How Much You're Paying into Social Security

Workers pay 6.2% of their earnings toward Social Security – but employers also pay 6.2%. Unfortunately, those who are self-employed have to pay both portions bringing their payment up to 12.4%.

Know How Much You'll Receive in Retirement

You can check to see approximately how much you'll earn from Social Security by using the administration's Retirement Estimator. Remember, this is just an estimate. To get an accurate figure, you will actually have to apply for Social Security benefits – something you probably shouldn't do until you at least hit full retirement age. (For more, see: How Are Social Security Benefits Estimated & Taxed?)

Filing and Suspending Benefits to Start Spousal Benefits

If you want to delay your benefits until well after your full retirement age, you can do so, but you may want to file for benefits at full retirement age and then suspend them. As a result of doing this, your spouse will get benefits in the meantime.

Understand How Benefits are Calculated

There are a number of factors that go into figuring out how much you'll receive in retirement. However, there's a big one - how much money you earned during the 35 years you made the most money. The more income you make in your working years, the more you'll potentially make in retirement through Social Security benefits. (For more, see: 4 Unusual Ways to Boost Social Security Benefits.)

Divorce and Qualifying for Spousal Benefits

That's right, you still might be able to get spousal benefits from your ex-spouse. Make sure to read through the Social Security Administration's page on the topic: Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced. Some of the factors involve how long you've been married, your age, if your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits, and more.

Delaying Benefits

You don't have to necessarily take Social Security benefits at your full retirement age. Instead, you can delay your benefits and grow them by 8% per year up to a predetermined maximum age. That's a nice return on investment, and worth it for those who don't need the money at full retirement age. (For more, see: Maximize Your Social Security Benefits.)

Don't Rely on Social Security Benefits Alone

Many young people are concerned about the sustainability of the Social Security program. I encourage everyone, in fact, to go beyond Social Security benefits and invest in other retirement accounts such as a Roth IRA. Don't rely on Social Security benefits alone.

Benefits Subject to Change

Legislation can change and usually does over the span of several years. How Social Security benefits are calculated will probably be no exception.

The Bottom Line

If you're retiring now, keep all these factors in mind when navigating the complexities of Social Security. If you're years away from retirement, don't forget to do your own research before you take your benefits. It's up to you to maximize your income. (For more, see: Create Your Own Social Security Fund.)

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