8 Ways to Increase Social Security Benefits - NerdWallet (2024)

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Knowing how to increase Social Security benefits is important, since those checks will likely be a major source of your income in retirement.

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand how Social Security really works. They claim too early, miss out on important benefits and fail to use strategies that could boost their lifetime income. Their mistakes can cost them as much as $250,000, researchers have estimated.

Here are eight ways to increase your Social Security benefits.

In this article

  • What is a budget?
  • What is a budget planner?
  • What is stock trading?
  • Dollar-cost averaging definition
  • JetBlue vs. competitors: How it compares in 2023

1. Delay your application

Social Security retirement benefits increase by roughly 5% to 7% each year that you delay between the earliest claiming age, 62, and your full retirement age, which is currently 66 and 2 months and rising to 67 for people born in 1960 and later.

The return you get increases if you can wait beyond your full retirement age. Delayed retirement credits boost your check by 8% for each year you hold off applying until age 70, when your benefit maxes out.

Pro tip: Most people are better off delaying, according to a large body of research that takes into account longer life spans, prevailing interest rates and survivors benefits. Many financial planners encourage their clients to tap other resources, such as retirement funds, if that allows them to put off applying.

» Learn more: Social Security payment schedule: When do I get my check?

2. Work longer

Social Security is based on a worker’s 35 highest-earning years. You may be able to boost your benefit by working longer if you’ll earn enough to replace one of your lower-paid years with a higher-paid one.

People who took time off to raise families or otherwise had breaks in their employment could find working longer to be especially helpful in increasing their benefit. (Note that if you start Social Security early, continuing to work could temporarily reduce your benefit.) Also, a woman’s income may be more likely than a man’s to increase later in life, increasing the potential payoff from continuing to work.

Pro Tip: If you start Social Security early, your benefit will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn above a certain limit. The limit is $21,240 in 2023 and $22,320 in 2024. This earnings test disappears at your full retirement age, so it’s usually best to wait at least until then to apply.

3. Earn more

Another way to increase your future Social Security check is to max out your earnings as many years as you can. In 2023 the first $160,200 of earnings is subject to Social Security tax. In 2024, that number is $168,600. If you max out in all 35 of your highest-earning years, you’ll qualify for the maximum Social Security benefit at your full retirement age. The maximum Social Security benefit at full retirement age is $3,627 per month in 2023 and $3,822 per month in 2024.

Pro tip: Sometimes self-employed people will try to minimize the amount of their income that’s subject to payroll taxes, but that maneuver can come back to bite them when it’s time to apply for Social Security. Paying a bit more taxes in the short run could pay off in a lifetime stream of higher, inflation-adjusted income.

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8 Ways to Increase Social Security Benefits - NerdWallet (1)

4. Consider your spouse

Some lower-earning spouses could get more from taking a spousal benefit than from taking their own retirement benefit. Spousal benefits can be as much as 50% of what the higher earner gets at his or her full retirement age. The amount is discounted if started early. Typically the higher-earning spouse needs to be receiving a retirement benefit for the other partner to get a spousal benefit. In the past, higher earners could “file and suspend” to let their own benefits grow, but that’s no longer an option.

When you apply, Social Security will compare your spousal benefit to your own retirement benefit and give you the larger of the two. In most cases, you won’t be able to switch from a spousal benefit to your own benefit later, even if your own benefit would be larger. (People born before Jan. 2, 1954, have the option of filing a “restricted application” for spousal benefits only and then switching to their own benefit later.)

Couples should also think about survivor benefits when making Social Security decisions. When one spouse dies, the survivor will start getting only one check — the larger of the two checks the couple was receiving. The drop in income from the check that’s lost can be substantial. Couples can help mitigate the damage by ensuring the check that remains is as large as possible. That typically requires having the higher earner put off the start of Social Security, preferably at least until full retirement age.

Pro tip: Coordinating benefits with a spouse can get complicated. Consider using a Social Security claiming calculator to explore your options. There’s a free one at the AARP site, or you can pay for a more sophisticated versions at Social Security Solutions ($20 and up) or Maximize My Social Security ($39 and up).

5. Investigate divorced spouse benefits

If you’re currently unmarried but a previous marriage lasted at least 10 years, you could qualify for spousal benefits based on your ex’s work record. The amount can be up to 50% of the worker’s benefit at his or her full retirement age. If you remarry, however, the divorced spouse benefit stops. You must be at least 62 to get spousal benefits.

If your ex has died and the marriage lasted at least 10 years, you could qualify for survivor benefits of up to 100% of your ex’s benefit. You can remarry at 60 or older (or 50 and older if disabled) and still receive divorced survivor benefits. Survivor and divorced survivor benefits can begin at age 60, or at age 50 if the survivor is disabled, or at any age if you’re caring for your ex’s child who is under 16 or disabled (and in that case, the 10-year marriage requirement is waived). People receiving survivor benefits can switch to their own benefit later if that’s larger, and vice versa.

Pro tip: Your ex must be at least 62 for you to receive a divorced spousal benefit, but does not need to be receiving his or her own benefit. (That’s different from regular spousal benefits, which typically require the primary worker to apply before the spouse can receive anything.) Survivor benefits are based on what your ex was receiving or would have received at full retirement age. (If your ex delayed starting benefits past full retirement age, the survivor benefit is increased by those delayed retirement credits.) If you start benefits before your own full retirement age, however, the amount you get will be reduced.

6. Add your minor child

If you’re receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits, your offspring may be entitled to a check as well. An unmarried minor child can receive up to 50% of the primary worker’s retirement or disability benefit. This child benefit typically ends at 18, but can continue to age 19 if the child is still in high school. Child benefits are also available to those 18 and older if they are disabled and the disability began before the child turned age 22.

There is a “family maximum” that limits how much a family can collect based on one worker’s earnings record. The maximum is between 150% and 188% of the worker’s monthly benefit at full retirement age. If your total family benefits would exceed the cap, the worker would continue to receive an unreduced check but the dependents’ checks would be proportionately reduced.

Pro tip: Family benefits, including child and spousal benefits, are subject to Social Security’s earnings test and may be reduced or even eliminated if the primary worker starts benefits early but continues to work.

7. Suspend your benefit

If you started Social Security early and decided that was a mistake, you can suspend your benefit once you reach your full retirement age. That will allow your benefit to earn the delayed retirement credit that increases the amount you get by 8% each year you delay until age 70, when your benefit maxes out. You don't have to pay back the benefits you've received.

Suspending your benefit, however, also suspends the benefit of anyone else receiving checks based on your work history, such as a spouse or a minor child. The potential increase in your benefit may not make up for the loss of your dependents’ benefits.

Pro tip: Sometimes Social Security workers incorrectly tell people they cannot suspend benefits. If that happens to you, refer them to this page on the Social Security website.

8. Use a do-over

If you change your mind within a year of applying for Social Security, you can withdraw your application and pay back everything you’ve received in benefits. That will restart the clock on your benefits so you can receive the 7% to 8% annual increase from delaying your application. You can do this only once in your lifetime, and you can’t withdraw your application after 12 months.

Pro tip: Withdrawing your application is different from suspending your benefit. You can suspend your benefit orally or in writing any time after reaching full retirement age. To withdraw, you must fill out Social Security Form SSA-521 within a year of applying and pay an amount equal to all the benefits you and your family have received, including any Medicare premiums withheld from your checks.

Estimate your Social Security retirement benefits

Your actual benefit may be lower or higher than estimate made with this calculator, because it does not take into account your actual earnings history.

We assume you have earnings every year until you begin receiving Social Security benefits. If you had several years of noncovered employment or your earnings changed significantly from year to year, this calculator will overestimate or underestimate your benefit.

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Social Security Benefits

The article you provided discusses various strategies to increase Social Security benefits, which are crucial for retirement planning. It covers topics such as delaying the application, working longer, earning more, considering your spouse, investigating divorced spouse benefits, adding your minor child, suspending your benefit, and using a do-over. These strategies aim to help individuals maximize their Social Security income and make informed decisions about their retirement planning.

Let's delve into the concepts mentioned in the article and provide detailed information on each of them.

What is a budget?

A budget is a financial plan that outlines an individual's or organization's expected income and expenses over a specific period. It serves as a tool for managing finances, controlling spending, and achieving financial goals. Creating and following a budget is essential for maintaining financial stability and making informed financial decisions.

What is a budget planner?

A budget planner is a tool or software that helps individuals or businesses organize and manage their finances effectively. It typically allows users to track income, expenses, savings, and investments, providing a comprehensive overview of their financial situation. By using a budget planner, individuals can set financial goals, allocate funds to different categories, and monitor their progress towards achieving financial stability.

What is stock trading?

Stock trading refers to the buying and selling of shares or securities in the financial markets. It involves investors and traders purchasing stocks with the expectation of profiting from price fluctuations. Stock trading can take place on various exchanges, and it can be done through traditional brokerage firms or online trading platforms. Understanding stock trading requires knowledge of market dynamics, company performance, and economic factors that influence stock prices.

Dollar-cost averaging definition

Dollar-cost averaging is an investment strategy that involves regularly investing a fixed amount of money in a particular security or investment fund, regardless of its price fluctuations. This approach aims to reduce the impact of market volatility on the overall cost of investment by spreading the purchase of assets over time. Dollar-cost averaging can help investors mitigate the risk of making large investments at unfavorable market conditions and potentially benefit from long-term market growth.

JetBlue vs. competitors: How it compares in 2023

JetBlue is an American low-cost airline known for its focus on customer service and affordable travel options. Comparing JetBlue to its competitors in 2023 involves evaluating various factors such as ticket prices, route networks, customer satisfaction, amenities, and loyalty programs. Understanding how JetBlue stacks up against its competitors can help travelers make informed decisions when choosing an airline for their travel needs.

I hope this information provides a comprehensive understanding of the concepts mentioned in the article. If you have further questions or need more details on any specific topic, feel free to ask!

8 Ways to Increase Social Security Benefits - NerdWallet (2024)


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