10 Strategies to Maximize Social Security

Your Social Security payment amount is determined by how much you earn while working and when you elect to start receiving payments. Married individuals are additionally eligible for spousal and survivor’s payments. But there are many strategies you can use to increase how much you will receive in retirement.

Here’s how to get the highest Social Security payment you qualify for.

— Work 35 or more years.

— Earn a higher salary.

— Don’t claim before your Social Security full retirement age.

— Consider delaying Social Security until age 70.

— Suspend your Social Security payments.

— Pay back your Social Security benefit.

— Use a Social Security spousal benefits strategy.

— Maximize Social Security survivor benefits.

— Claim Social Security survivor benefits for children.

— Estimate your longevity.

[See: 10 Ways to Increase Your Social Security Payments.]

Work 35 or More Years

Your Social Security payments are calculated using your 35 highest-earning years in the workforce. If you don’t work for at least 35 years, zeros are factored into the calculation and reduce your payments. Even a low-earning year is better than having a zero averaged in. Working for more than 35 years can cause a lower-earning year to be dropped from the calculation and increase your monthly payments. Each additional year of work, even after retirement, could increase your future payments if you now earn more than you did earlier in your career.

Earn a Higher Salary

Maximizing your earnings during your career by negotiating for raises or working more than one job can increase your Social Security payments in retirement. The more you earn and pay into Social Security up to the taxable maximum, the higher your retirement payments will be. The amount of earnings subject to Social Security tax is adjusted each year to keep up with changes in average wages. Earnings above the taxable maximum are not subject to Social Security taxes or used to calculate your benefit. In order to get the maximum possible Social Security benefit, you would need to earn at least the taxable maximum amount throughout your career.

Don’t Claim Before Your Social Security Full Retirement Age

Social Security monthly benefits are reduced if you start payments before your full retirement age. The full retirement age is 66 for baby boomers born between 1943 and 1954. The retirement age then gradually increases to 66 and two months for people born in 1955 and eventually reaches 66 and 10 months for those born in 1959. Everyone born in 1960 or later has a full retirement age of 67. Workers who sign up for Social Security at age 62 will get 25% smaller monthly payments if their full retirement age is 66 and a 30% benefit reduction if their full retirement age is 67.

[READ: How Much You Will Get From Social Security.]

Consider Delaying Social Security Until Age 70

You can increase your payments if you delay claiming Social Security past your full retirement age. You will accrue delayed retirement credits that will boost your monthly benefit by 8% for each year of delay between your full retirement age and age 70. After age 70, there is no additional incentive to delay starting your payments. Baby boomers with a full retirement age of 66 are eligible to accrue up to four years of delayed retirement credits and can boost their monthly payments by as much as 32% by waiting to start collecting benefits. Younger people with a full retirement age of 67 max out at three years of delayed retirement credits and a 24% increase in monthly payments.

Suspend Your Social Security Payments

If you took a reduced Social Security benefit, it’s not too late to boost your payments. Social Security beneficiaries who are between full retirement age and age 70 can suspend Social Security payments and earn delayed retirement credits. This will increase your benefit by 8% for each year of suspension up until age 70, or as much as 32% if you suspend your payments for four years. This strategy allows you to qualify for larger Social Security payments later in retirement.

Pay Back Your Social Security Benefit

If you change your mind within 12 months of signing up for Social Security, you can repay all the money you and your family have received, without interest, and withdraw your Social Security application. You would also need to pay back any portion of your Social Security benefit that was withheld for Social Security taxes and Medicare premiums. You can then apply for Social Security payments again at a later date, and the monthly payments will then be larger due to delayed claiming. However, each beneficiary can only use this option once.

Use a Social Security Spousal Benefits Strategy

Married individuals are eligible to claim Social Security payments worth up to 50% of their spouse’s benefit if that amount is higher than their own payment. To get the full 50%, you need to sign up for Social Security spousal payments at your full retirement age, which is 66 for most baby boomers. Spousal payments are reduced if you claim them before your full retirement age. Ex-spouses are also eligible for spousal payments if the marriage lasted at least 10 years.

Maximize Social Security Survivor Benefits

When one member of a retired married couple passes away, the surviving spouse can inherit the deceased spouse’s Social Security payment if that amount is higher than his or her current monthly payment. Married couples can increase the Social Security benefit the surviving spouse will receive by having the higher earner delay claiming Social Security. A one-time death payment of $255 can also be claimed by a widow or widower if he or she was living with the deceased or receiving Social Security benefits on the deceased’s record.

[READ: How to Maximize Social Security With Spousal Benefits.]

Claim Social Security Survivor Benefits for Children

The children of a deceased worker can qualify for payments until they turn age 18 or 19 while a full-time high school student. A widow or widower who is caring for a dependent child under age 16 or a disabled child who developed a disability before age 22 could also qualify for payments. However, there’s a Social Security family maximum of 150% to 180% of the worker’s benefit, and if all qualifying family members exceed this limit, each person’s benefit is reduced.

Estimate Your Longevity

The most effective Social Security claiming strategy for you depends on how long you will live. If you have a major health problem, it can make sense to claim benefits as soon as possible (unless you want to leave a higher benefit to a surviving spouse). If you’re healthy and have parents who lived into their 90s, there’s a case to be made for delaying claiming your benefit in order to receive a higher Social Security payment in your 70s, 80s and beyond. A Social Security calculator can help you run the numbers to determine the best age to claim Social Security.

More from U.S. News

10 Ways to Increase Your Social Security Payments

How to Maximize Social Security With Spousal Benefits

You May Be Getting More From Social Security Than You Think

10 Strategies to Maximize Social Security originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 05/09/23: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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