There are some secrets to Social Security in the United States that could help increase the benefits you receive. These tips are not complicated, and anyone can take advantage of them by investing a little effort and time. We start with the basic tenets of Social Security, then dive deeper into some of the more little-known benefit-boosting secrets of the system.
1. Work 35 Years
You can receive Social Security benefits after working as little as 10 years, and you can receive retirement benefits starting as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. Your benefit amount is based on the average of your 35 highest-earning years, so if you work for fewer years, then a lot of zeros could be averaged in. Also, since your benefit is based on averaging your highest-earning years, the more you earn, the higher your benefit.
2. Work Longer
You can retire as young as age 62. If you do, though, your benefits could be reduced by 25% to 30%. Full retirement for those born after 1942 happens at 66, with two months added for each year after 1954; for those born in 1960 and after, it is 67. You should try to work long enough to qualify for full retirement benefits. Even better, if you wait longer to retire then you could be eligible for delayed retirement credits that would increase your monthly rate.
3. Sign Up for Spousal Benefits
You may be eligible to receive social security benefits through your spouse if you're at least 62 years old and have a child in your care. A spousal benefit can be as much as 50% of the other spouse's benefit, depending on when they retire. People often overlook this important Social Security filing secret, including the fact that both parties in a divorce can claim spousal benefits based on the other spouse’s Social Security earnings. However, if you have remarried, you cannot collect your ex-spouse’s benefits.
4. Receive Spousal Benefits While Working
If both spouses earn about the same amount of money and one retires, gets Social Security benefits and is at full retirement age, then the other spouse can claim spousal benefits by filing a "restricted application" and keep working. Once that second spouse decides to retire, they can apply for their own, higher benefit. Younger spouses no longer qualify for this benefit, which was eliminated under a 2015 budget act.
5. Receive a Dependent Benefit
If you are retired but have dependents under age 19, they are entitled to up to 50% of your benefit. This could happen, for example, if you are widowed or divorced and remarry someone younger with children. Dependent benefits don't decrease the amount of Social Security benefits that a living parent receives — they're added to what the family receives.
6. Monitor Earnings
If you do decide to retire before full retirement age, track any earnings you have and make sure that they don’t exceed the allowed limit, which changes each year. If they do, you may end up having a portion of future benefits withheld until you do reach full retirement.
7. Avoid a Tax-Bracket Bump
Another area to watch is the effect of your non–Social Security earnings on income taxes. Additional earnings could put you in the next highest tax bracket.
8. Apply for Survivor Benefits
You can receive a deceased spouse's (or ex-spouse's) social security benefits if you're age 60 or older and your survivor benefits are higher than your own benefits would be (you have to wait until your own full retirement age to get 100% of their benefit). Even if your deceased spouse dies before filing, you can get up to 100% of their benefit. If you're at least 60 and you remarry, you won't lose these benefits. Once you reach age 70, check to see if your own delayed benefit is higher, and, if so, switch.
9. Check for Mistakes
You will receive a Social Security statement every year. Do not assume it is accurate. Check it and report any errors by following the directions provided by the Social Security Administration. Remember, your benefits are based on the average of your 35 highest-earning years. A miscalculation for even one or two of those years could impact your benefit for the rest of your life.
10. Ask for a Do-Over
You may have the right to halt your benefit, pay it back and start collecting benefits again later. This could apply if you become re-employed after you retire – or inherit money and decide you can afford to delay your filing in order to have a higher benefit check. You do this by filing Social Security Administration Form 521, Request for Withdrawal of Application – but note that you only have 12 months after starting benefits to change your mind. When you file again later, your benefit will likely be substantially more than it was originally. Finally, you can claim an itemized deduction or a tax credit for any taxes you paid on benefits in previous years. For more see: 6 Social Security Changes to Expect in 2019.