Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits: A Guide

Russel Sawayn
Published Feb 2, 2024


Social Security benefits are a critical source of financial assistance for millions of Americans in retirement. The Social Security Administration uses a formula based on your lifetime earnings to determine your benefit amount.

While everyone's situation is different, there are some key strategies you can use to maximize your benefits and provide more support for yourself and your family.


Start Planning Early

The age you begin taking Social Security drastically impacts your monthly benefit amount. You can start claiming as early as age 62, but your benefits will be permanently reduced compared to if you wait.

For each year you delay claiming between your full retirement age (typically 66-67) and age 70, your benefit amount increases by 8% annually. This incentive to wait makes starting early less advantageous.

Planning ahead and delaying as long as possible, even to age 70, can lead to substantially higher monthly income.
 

Understand How Work Impacts Benefits

Working while collecting Social Security can reduce your benefits if you start claiming before your full retirement age. In 2023, if you are under full retirement age, $1 in benefits will be deducted for every $2 you earn above $21,240.

The year you reach full retirement age, your benefits are reduced by $1 for every $3 earned above $56,520 in months prior to attaining full retirement age. Once you hit full retirement age, you can earn any amount without reductions.
 

Consider Spousal and Survivor Benefits

Married couples can take advantage of spousal and survivor benefits to increase total Social Security income. A spouse can receive up to 50% of the primary earner's benefit amount.

Survivor benefits provide income to widows and widowers based on the spouse's earnings record. Factor these benefits into your overall retirement plan.
 

Use Online Tools to Estimate Your Benefits

The Social Security Administration website provides helpful online calculators to estimate your retirement, disability, survivor and spousal benefits. Entering your real earnings history provides the most accurate projections to inform your claiming strategy.

Consulting the calculators annually can reveal how life changes impact your future benefits.

With some planning and using the resources available, you can make the most of your Social Security benefits. Use online tools to project your income, understand all the rules, weigh timing of when to claim and make the optimal decisions for your needs.

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