Any kind of monthly check you don’t have to work for is pretty impressive, but let’s be honest: When it comes to Social Security, we all want as much as we can get. Many don’t realize it, but there are several easy ways to increase your Social Security checks, even if you’re not yet eligible to apply. Here are three you can try to lock into bigger benefit checks for life.
1. Work at least 35 years
The Social Security Administration calculates your benefit amount using data about your average monthly earnings during your highest earning 35 years. You don’t have to work that long to qualify for benefits, but if you leave the workforce before the 35-year mark, you’ll have a few years with no earnings included in your benefit calculation, permanently reducing the amount you earn. will have. get from the program.
If you can, try to work at least 35 years before you retire, and don’t feel like you have to stop there. Those who work more than 35 years often get more from Social Security. You probably make more money as you approach retirement age than when you were a teenager or young adult just starting your career. Once you’re over age 35, these more recent, higher-earning years begin to replace your earlier, lower-earning years in calculating your benefits, resulting in larger checks.
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2. Choose the right claim age
The other big factor that affects your Social Security checks is your age. His year of birth determines his full retirement age (FRA). This is the age at which you become eligible for your full Social Security benefit, and it’s between 66 and 67 for today’s workers.
Each month that you claim benefits under your FRA reduces your checks. So, for example, if you sign up immediately at age 62, you’ll only get 70% of your total benefit per check if your FRA is 67 or 75% if your FRA is 66. The longer you wait, the more your checks will grow. until you reach your maximum benefit at 70. That’s 124% of your total benefit per check if your FRA is 67 or 132% if your FRA is 66.
Delaying benefits may seem like the best option, but it depends on your life expectancy. People who expect to live to age 80 or older generally get more money overall by delaying benefits, but those with a shorter life expectancy are better off signing up right away so they can claim checks for as many years as possible.
3. Coordinate with members of your household
Married people may be eligible for a Social Security benefit even if they themselves never worked. If one person worked long enough to qualify for the checks, their partner is automatically eligible for a spousal benefit, which is worth up to 50% of the worker’s benefit in their FRA.
And if both spouses worked, each could be eligible for their own benefit, as well as a spousal benefit. In that case, the Social Security Administration awards each person the benefit that is greater. However, you cannot claim a spousal benefit until your spouse signs up.
Couples looking to maximize their benefits should coordinate their claim strategy. Your approach will depend on each person’s income and life expectancy and household finances. For example, if one person is terminally ill or the couple is having financial difficulties, one or both people may want to enroll early.
But if you’ve both earned a similar amount over your lifetime and can pay your bills without Social Security, both spouses can choose to delay benefits until they qualify for larger checks.
If you have other members of your household, such as minor children or the disabled, they may also qualify for Social Security benefits. But you must register before you can claim any benefits on your work record.
Ultimately, you have to decide when you want to sign up for Social Security. But it’s a good idea to explore a few different scenarios before making that call. If you haven’t already, create a my Social Security account so you can see how much you can expect from the program at various starting ages based on your actual work history. Then, once you’ve chosen your starting age, check in with yourself annually to make sure this still makes sense to you.
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