12 ways to maximize your Social Security checks

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If you’ve focused all of your energy planning for retirement on your 401(k), you may be missing out on an essential piece of the puzzle: Social Security.

You can influence your bottom line from this old age safety net to a surprising degree by making some adjustments, or by making changes in your retirement planning.

It’s time to start increasing your Social Security checks, even if you had contracts before retirement. Here are some of the best ways to do that.

1. Increase your income

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Since the amount of your Social Security checks depends in part on your earnings, doing what you can now to grow your income will increase the value of your Social Security checks in the future.

Some ways to increase your income:

  • Focus on regular increases. Evaluate your value in the business and approach the employer carefully.
  • Consider changing jobs if your salary has exceeded in your current job.
  • Plans for professional growth, including assessing whether further education is worth the cost or whether you should enter a new field of work.

2. Avoid claiming benefits too early

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The age at which you begin collecting Social Security makes a big difference to the size of your checks.

You can generally start claiming benefits as early as age 62. But your benefits checks will be smaller if you claim at any time before you reach what the Social Security Administration calls your “full retirement age.”

For example, if you start receiving benefits immediately, at age 62, your checks will be 20% to 30% smaller forever than if you waited until you reached full retirement age. Here are “7 Reasons to Not Get Social Security at Age 62.”

Some people have no choice, though. Many retirees stop working earlier than planned due to illness or unemployment, or to provide care for a family member, for example. If this is the case for you, try to use other sources of income if possible, so that you can delay claiming benefits until you are older.

On the other hand, if you don’t expect to live to a very advanced age, it might be a good idea to claim that money now. This depends on your circumstances. Here’s “5 Times When It’s Smart To Claim Social Security Early.”

3. Continue until age 70

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Just as claiming Social Security before full retirement age may result in a smaller check, delaying a claim until after full retirement age is reached can result in a larger monthly check.

The Social Security Administration offers these examples to illustrate the value of waiting:

  • 67, you will get 108% of the monthly benefit because you delayed getting the benefits for 12 months.
  • 70, you’ll get 132% of your monthly benefit because you delayed getting benefits for 48 months.”

After the age of 70, you have reached your maximum waiting value as there are no further increases to be achieved. Don’t delay claiming benefits after your 70th birthday.

4. Get professional help

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In many cases, making an informed decision about when to claim Social Security benefits can boost benefits by tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime, especially for couples.

Many companies will prepare a custom analysis that reveals exactly when to claim Social Security benefits to receive the maximum lifetime compensation.

Social Security Choices sells one of these products for $39.99 and, in partnership with Money Talks News, offers a $10 discount. Use the coupon code “moneytalks” when purchasing a report. To find out more, stop by our Solution Center, and read “A Simple Way to Maximize Your Social Security.”

5. Consider marital benefits

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Married couples have an advantage in the social security system. A married person may be able to receive up to half the amount of the spouse’s full retirement benefit. Even a spouse who has never worked may be able to claim benefits.

A divorced person who has been married for 10 years or more may qualify for spousal benefits, if he does not remarry and meets other requirements.

6. Increase the inheritance allowance for your husband

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When you die, your Social Security benefits expire, but your widow or widow may be eligible to receive inheritance benefits on your Social Security record.

The amount of inheritance benefits your spouse is entitled to depends in part on your earnings history. So, do everything you can now to increase your earnings.

7. Weigh the cost of labor while claiming benefits

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If you claim Social Security benefits before reaching full retirement age and also work, it can cost you. The government can reduce your Social Security checks by up to $1 for every $2 in earnings over a certain amount, until you reach full retirement age.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) says that the amount you were exposed, will eventually be repaid to you. When you reach full retirement age, your monthly allowance for retained interest will increase. You just have to live without it for the time you are still working but have not yet reached your full retirement age.

We explain this in detail in “Risk of Work While Collecting Social Security.”

8. Pay off debts

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Social Security checks can be reserved for certain debts and other financial obligations. It can include:

  • child support
  • alimony
  • Delayed federal taxes
  • Federal Student Loans

If possible, make these payments before you retire so you can keep your benefits check in full.

9. Check for errors

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Monitor your Social Security data, and go over it to make sure your income is reported correctly. Getting credit for every penny you earn will boost your final benefit checks.

You can do all of this online by creating an account at SSA.gov.

Also, creating an account is the best way to protect your Social Security from thieves.

10. Benefit collection for minor children

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Once you start collecting Social Security benefits, your unmarried dependent children may also be eligible for benefits.

The definition of “children” here can include biological and adopted children, stepchildren and dependent grandchildren, depending on the child’s age and other circumstances.

11. Work more years

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The size of your Social Security benefit checks is generally determined by a formula that is actually based on your 35 years of highest-earning work. If you’ve been in business for less than 35 years, the formula uses zeros for the lost years’ earnings.

Years of zero profits will reduce your benefits. So, work at least 35 years before you stop working.

12. Watch out for taxes

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If your only income in retirement will come from Social Security, you probably won’t have to worry about paying income taxes. But if you have income from other sources, up to 85% of your Social Security benefits may be taxed.

Federal taxes on Social Security benefits depend on your tax filing status and, if you’re married, on what the Social Security Administration calls “joint income.”

Some ways to reduce your federal income tax bill when you retire might be to choose investments that will lower your tax liability or reduce your spending to attract less income from retirement savings each year.

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