You've been contributing to the Social Security fund over a lifetime of work. You might as well make the most of your benefits. Below are some of the ways you can boost your entitlement.
1. Work 35 Years
You can be eligible for Social Security benefits after working as little as 10 years, and you can begin receiving benefits 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. If you work for fewer years, those zeros are averaged in.
- Delay applying until age 70 and you'll get your maximum amount.
- Wait even longer and you could be eligible for delayed retirement credits.
- If you work while getting benefits, make sure you don't run into the earned-income limits that will reduce your benefits.
Since your benefit is based on your highest-earning years, the more you earn, the higher your benefit. There are limits, though. The maximum benefits in 2019 are $2,209 for those retiring at age 62; $2,727 for those retiring at age 65, and $3,770 for those retiring at age 70.
2. Work Longer
As you can see from the maximum levels above, you can retire as young as age 62 and collect Social Security, but your benefits will be reduced by 25% to 30%.
For everyone born after 1942, the full retirement age is 66, with two months added for each year after 1954. For those born in 1960 and after, it is age 67.
It's wise to wait until the full retirement age to start collecting in order to get the highest amount you're eligible to receive. Even better, wait even longer and you could be eligible for delayed retirement credits that increase your monthly payment.
3. Sign Up for Spousal Benefits
If you are married and have little earned income, you may be entitled to spousal benefits of up to 50% of your partner's eligible amount.
If you're at least 62 years old and have a child in your care, you may be eligible to receive benefits through your spouse. The spousal benefit can be as much as 50% of the amount of the partner's benefit, depending on when the partner retires.
Even divorcees are eligible. In fact, both parties in a divorce can claim spousal benefits based on the other spouse’s Social Security earnings. (If you have remarried, you cannot collect your ex-spouse’s benefits.)
4. Receive a Dependent Benefit
If you are retired but still have dependents under age 19, they are entitled to up to 50% of your benefit. This dependent benefit doesn't decrease the amount of Social Security benefits that a parent can receive. They are added to what the family receives.
5. Monitor Your Earnings
If you continue to work after you start receiving Social Security payments, keep track of your earnings to make sure that they don’t exceed the allowed limit.
The maximum monthly benefit in 2019 is $2,209 if you apply at age 62; $2,727 if you apply at age 65, and $3,770 if you wait until age 70.
For 2019, the limit on earned income is $17,640 for recipients below full retirement age and $46,920 for those at or above full retirement age. Your benefit payment is reduced for the year if you exceed the limits.
6. Avoid a Tax Bracket Bump
If you're still working while receiving benefits, you also have to watch out for tax bracket creep. Your earnings plus Social Security could put you up a notch in the tax table.
7. Apply for Survivor Benefits
If your deceased spouse (or ex-spouse) was eligible for a higher Social Security payment than you, you may be eligible for that higher survivor benefit. You may qualify for the higher benefit even if your spouse died before applying for benefits.
8. Check for Mistakes
You get a Social Security statement every year. Do not assume it is accurate. Check the numbers and report any errors to 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.
9. Change Your Mind
You may have the right to suspend your benefit, pay back the money you've already received, and start collecting benefits again later. You can do this as long as you've been receiving benefits for less than a full year.
This could happen if you get a job after you retire, or inherit money and decide you can afford to delay filing to get a higher benefit check.
You do this by filing Social Security Administration Form 521, Request for Withdrawal of Application.
When you file again later, your benefit should be substantially higher.