3 Avoidable Mistakes That Could Make You Lose Out on Social Security

Millions of seniors rely on Social Security today, to the point where they’d be utterly lost without benefits. Now the reality is that retiring on Social Security alone isn’t advisable. But it’s a boat many seniors land in.

Even if you make an effort to save for retirement independently, you might still end up heavily dependent on Social Security once your time in the workforce comes to an end. And so the last thing you want is to lose out on benefits you might otherwise be able to snag. But if you make these mistakes, you could end up with less money from Social Security — and a world of regret.

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1. Not knowing your full retirement age

Your full retirement age, or FRA, is when you’re entitled to claim your Social Security benefits in full. But if you file sooner, you could end up slashing your benefits on a permanent basis.

Here’s when FRA kicks in, depending on when you were born:

If Your Year of Birth Is:

Full Retirement Age Is:

1943-1954

66

1955

66 and 2 months

1956

66 and 4 months

1957

66 and 6 months

1958

66 and 8 months

1959

66 and 10 months

1960 or any year after

67

Many seniors mistakenly think that FRA begins at age 65, since that’s the start of Medicare eligibility. But the two programs have different rules, and it’s important to know when you’re able to start collecting Social Security without seeing your benefits reduced.

2. Not checking your annual earnings statements

Each year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issues workers an earnings statement with a summary of their income. If you’re 60 or older, that statement should arrive in your mailbox. Otherwise, you can access it on the SSA’s website.

And to be clear, you should access that statement. If it contains a mistake — namely, underreported income — you could end up with lower Social Security benefits down the line. But if you spot and correct such a mistake, you could wind up with higher monthly paychecks.

3. Filing for benefits too late

Filing for Social Security before FRA will result in reduced benefits. But filing after FRA will result in higher benefits for life.

For each year you delay your claim beyond FRA, your benefits get an 8% boost. And so if your FRA is 67 and you hold off on filing for Social Security until age 70, you’ll eke out a 24% increase.

But once you turn 70, there’s no financial incentive at play for delaying benefits. And if you hold off on filing for Social Security for too long, you could actually end up losing out on money you would’ve otherwise been entitled to.

Avoid a financial hit

All of these Social Security errors are easy to make — but also, easy to avoid. Once you commit your FRA to memory, you won’t have to worry about claiming benefits early accidentally. Granted, you might choose to sign up for Social Security early, but that’s a different thing.

Similarly, checking your earnings statement each year could spell the difference between a higher monthly benefit and a lower one. And making sure to sign up for Social Security by age 70 could spare you from losing out on income you deserve.

All told, the more you know about Social Security’s rules, the easier it’ll be to avoid these and other harmful blunders. So even if retirement is many years away, take the time to read up on Social Security so you won’t wind up taking a financial hit during your senior years.

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