For millions of retirees, Social Security benefits make up a substantial amount of income. The average beneficiary collects just over $1,500 per month from Social Security, and that money can go a long way toward enjoying a comfortable retirement.
However, it likely won’t cover all your future expenses. If your savings are falling short and you expect to depend on your benefits for a large portion of your income, it pays to ensure you’re earning as much as possible from Social Security.
Fortunately, there are ways to increase the size of your checks. By taking advantage of either of these strategies, you could potentially boost your benefit amount by hundreds of dollars per month.
1. Delay claiming benefits
The earliest you can file for Social Security is age 62, but the longer you wait — up to age 70 — the more you’ll receive each month. Depending on your benefit amount and the age at which you claim, delaying Social Security could nearly double the amount you receive each month.
Say, for example, you have a full retirement age (FRA) of 67 years old. If you were to file at that age, you’d receive $1,500 per month in benefits. If you were to claim at age 62, your benefits would be cut by 30%, and you’d receive $1,050 per month.
On the other hand, if you were to delay benefits until age 70, you’d receive your full benefit amount ($1,500 per month) plus a 24% bonus each month, giving you a total of $1,860 per month — $810 per month more than if you’d claimed at age 62.
Keep in mind that, in theory, the total amount you’ll receive over a lifetime should be roughly the same, regardless of the age at which you file. If you claim benefits early, you’ll receive more checks, but each one will be smaller. By delaying, you’ll collect fewer, larger checks. But if you’re looking to maximize your monthly income, delaying benefits can be a smart move.
2. Take advantage of spousal, divorce, or survivors benefits
If you’ve worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years, you’re generally eligible to collect retirement benefits. But if you’re married or divorced, or if a loved one has passed away, you may also be entitled to spousal, divorce, or survivors benefits — even if you’ve never worked.
Spousal and divorce benefits are generally available to those who are married (or were previously married) to someone who’s entitled to Social Security benefits. To qualify for divorce benefits, you must currently be unmarried and your previous marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years.
In both cases, the maximum you can receive is 50% of the amount your spouse or ex-spouse is entitled to collect at his or her FRA. If you’re also entitled to benefits based on your own work record, you’ll only receive the higher of the two amounts — not both. According to the Social Security Administration, the average spousal benefit amount is around $795 per month.
Survivors benefits are generally reserved for widows and widowers. However, they’re sometimes also available to parents, children, ex-spouses, and other family members who were financially dependent on someone who passed away.
How much you could collect in survivors benefits depends on several factors, but the average benefit amount is around $1,249 per month, according to the Social Security Administration.
Social Security benefits can have a significant impact on the quality of your retirement, so it’s wise to take advantage of all the resources you have to maximize your monthly payments. With the right strategy, you could earn more than you think from Social Security.
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