Want to get more money from Social Security? Here are five proven strategies.
Most Americans’ retirement plans depend on Social Security, but let’s be honest: the benefits aren’t very big. In January 2023, the average benefit payment was only $1,691.
Worried that your pension and savings won’t cover your expenses in retirement? Try these tried-and-true ways to get more money from Social Security.
Make more money
One thing that all of Social Security’s top earners have in common is that they all made a lot of money while they were working if not all of the time. Your benefit is based on the 35 years in which you made the most money. If you make more money up to the Social Security wage cap, which will be $160,200 in 2023, you will get bigger checks in the future.
You can’t just snap your fingers and go from making a modest salary to making $160,200 a year; that’s obvious. But you can increase your earnings for Social Security purposes in a number of ways, such as by getting a side job, finding a better-paying job, or negotiating a raise at your current job. You could also work longer than 35 years and replace some low-income years with higher-income years.
Stay employed for at least 35 years
After ten years of full-time employment or forty work credits, most workers become qualified for retirement benefits. However, if you work fewer than 35 years, your payout will be lower because Social Security is calculated using your highest 35 years of earnings. In Social Security’s benefit formula, the years you didn’t work will be counted as “0s,” which will lower your benefit.
Delay, delay, delay
If you want to get more money from your Social Security checks, you should wait as long as you can. You’ll need to wait until you’re 67 years old, which is the full retirement age for individuals born in 1960 or later, in order to receive your full benefit.
Even though you can start getting benefits at age 62, your checks will be cut by 30%. Until you reach age 70, you’ll get an extra 8% delayed retirement credit for every year you wait past your full retirement age. At that point, you get the most benefit you can. If you take your benefits at 70 instead of 62, they will be about 77% higher.
Find out about the spouse and survivor benefits.
If you’ve been married or divorced, you may be able to get a bigger benefit through spousal benefits or survivor benefits. The most you can get as a spouse is 50% of the full retirement benefit of your current or former spouse. (If you want to get benefits as an ex-spouse, you need to have been married for at least ten years and divorced for at least 2 years. You also can’t have remarried.)
Through survivor benefits, you can get up to 100% of the benefit that your late spouse got.
Two things you should know: Even though you’ll get less money if you retire early, you can’t make up for it with spousal or survivor benefits. At full retirement age, you’ll get the most money. Also, you can’t get twice as much money from Social Security. You’ll get either your own retirement benefit or a spouse or survivor benefit, depending on which is bigger. You won’t get both, though.
Get one chance to start over
If you have already started getting benefits but wish you had waited for more money, you may be able to change your mind. If it has been less than a year since you applied for benefits, you can take your application back. But you can only do this once, and you have to pay back all the benefits you got as well as any money that was taken out of them, such as Medicare premiums.
You can also stop getting your benefit once you reach the full retirement age. You can then let those 8% delayed retirement credits build up. You can ask Social Security to start paying you again at any time before you turn 70. When that happens, Social Security will automatically start paying you again.