Although designed to replace only 40% of pre-retirement income, Social Security is an important source of funds for retirees. So, it's a good idea to aim for the biggest possible checks. Fortunately, there are a few simple strategies that can help make that happen.
Here are three steps to help supersize your Social Security checks each month.
1. Wait as long as possible to claim benefits
Every retiree has a full retirement age (FRA) — between 66 and 2 months and 67 — when they can receive their standard benefit. While benefits can be claimed as early as 62, starting them before FRA results in early filing penalties. And while retirees who claim at FRA avoid those penalties, they miss the chance to earn delayed retirement credits.
Early filing penalties and delayed retirement credits apply monthly and add up over time. Here's how they'll impact your benefits:
Benefits are reduced by 6.7% annually for each of the three years before FRA
Benefits are reduced by 5% for each prior year
Benefits are increased by 8% for each year you wait after age 70
That means if you want the largest check, you'll need to wait as long as you can — and ideally to age 70 before you start your benefits. While this isn't always the right approach, it's the best choice to boost your monthly Social Security income as a retiree.
2. Work more than 35 years
Average wages over your career determine what your standard Social Security benefit will be. That's the benefit you'd get at FRA, with no early filing penalties or delayed retirement credits applied.
To determine your average, Social Security adjusts wages for inflation and then takes into account the 35 years your earnings were highest. This means that for retirees earning more later in life (on an inflation-adjusted basis), it can pay to work longer than 35 years.
The more years you work at a higher salary, the more low-earning years you can push out of your average — and the higher your benefits will become.
3. Take full advantage of all your benefits
Finally, it's crucial to understand all the Social Security benefits you're entitled to. This includes Social Security disability benefits, survivor benefits, and spousal benefits.
If you become disabled and need to stop working early, you may be tempted to claim Social Security as soon as you can at 62. But if you're eligible, consider claiming Social Security disability benefits instead to avoid filing early and taking a hit to your retirement benefits.
Likewise, Social Security survivor or spousal benefits are available to current and former spouses after a marriage of at least 10 years. These could be higher than your own benefits, if your spouse was the higher earner
It can be a challenge to ensure you have enough income to see you through an entire retirement. Since Social Security provides a consistent source of funds for life, it pays to do everything possible to maximize it. By working longer, delaying benefits, and understanding all the benefits you're due, you can make certain you're getting the most from Social Security.
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