Social Security Cheat Sheet: Maximize Benefits With These 7 Tips

What do you know about Social Security?

Understanding how to maximize your benefits as a part of your retirement plan can make a great difference in your financials and overall well-being during your golden years. We created a list with cheat codes to maximize your benefit, so you know you make the most of your retirement.

If you are nearing retirement or a retiree looking to boost their monthly payments, these strategies are going to be a real help for you.

Of course, you can always get a consultation with a specialist if you want detailed advice and guidance, but reading further is going to teach you more about Social Security and what you didn’t know you could do.

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Let’s dive in:

1. Delaying your claim to maximize the Social Security benefit

An easy way to boost your Social Security earnings is by delaying the claim past your full retirement age (FRA). With each year you wait, the benefit increases until you reach 70. Especially if you are near retirement and have solid savings, this is a stress-free and amazing method to enhance Social Security money.

These benefits are designed to be neutral. This means you’ll receive the same amount over your lifetime, regardless of when you start claiming, based on an assumed average lifespan. So, if you have a family history of longevity, waiting until your 70s to claim can be really advantageous.

There are additional benefits involved here: if your spouse outlives you, they can receive the amount you were getting. Waiting until 70 means maximizing the monthly benefit that would translate into a substantially increased survivor’s benefits.  Social Security benefits are adjusted for inflation, which means delaying your claim to start with a higher amount can provide better protection against inflation.

By delaying your claim, you will open various opportunities, for example, the possibility of implementing Roth conversions. As this is a complex topic, we advise you to consult a financial advisor.

2. Work a bit longer?

Considering that Social Security benefits depend on the number of credits earned during your working time, you earn up to four credits each year, and a standard of 40 credits qualifies you for retirement benefits. If you want your number of credits to increase, a solution would be to work a bit longer to surpass the 40-credit requirement.

Working beyond your full retirement age (FRA) will increase your benefits. SSA calculated the benefits based on the highest 35 years of earnings. Replacing a lower-earning year with a higher-earning one can significantly boost the benefits. This is possible because SSA adjusts your earnings to reflect changes in average wages over the years.

3. Coordinate benefits with your spouse.

How can you benefit from your marriage and optimize your Social Security benefits? Well, coordinating spousal benefits can maximize the overall earnings for your household.

For example, one spouse can choose to keep working, delaying their retirement benefits until the other starts receiving them. This is a good strategy that will bring a higher total benefit in the long run for your household. This is clearly a better solution than both spouses claiming as soon as they reach full retirement age.

Spousal benefit also means that one spouse is allowed to receive benefits based on their spouse’s work record. This can amount to 50% of the working spouse’s FRA benefit. This can be useful if one spouse has lower lifetime earnings or doesn’t have a significant work period. The condition to qualify is for the beneficiary spouse to be 62 years old and the working spouse to already have filed for their benefits.

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4. Higher Earnings

Keep in mind that Social Security benefits are determined by the average indexed monthly earnings (AIME). Increased earnings contribute more to your AIME, which also affects how the primary insurance amount (PIA) is calculated. A higher PIA means higher monthly Social Security earnings.

As we mentioned earlier, your benefit is based on your highest 35 years of earnings, so maximizing your income in your career timeline will clearly make a difference and bring higher Social Security benefits. The SSA reviews beneficiaries’ reported wages from the previous year every year. If recent earnings are higher, they recalculate your benefit, and the payment increase is due.

So, if the chance of a high-paying job appears, you better consider taking it, even if you are closer to retirement. This will boost your AIME and, with it, your Social Security benefits.

5. Be mindful of the earnings.

After you retire, you are still legally allowed to work and earn income. Even if you’ve started receiving Social Security benefits, you can still have a limited income, as there is a rule on this subject while still receiving the full benefit.

Let’s see some situations and how they work:

  • If you situate yourself under FRA, the SSA is deducting $1 from your payment for every $2  you earn over the annual limit. The last limit set on annual earnings under the FRA is $21,240.
  • If you reach FRA this year, the SSA will deduct $1 from your benefits for every $3 you earn over the annual limit. The limit for the FRA category is $56,520.

These apply to both retirement and survivor benefits. They don’t count to benefits received by spouses or in the case of divorced spouses. If you plan to keep working and claim your benefits before your FRA, you should know these earning tests to make sure any excess earnings will not reduce your benefits.

6. Dependent benefits

These are the five groups that may be eligible for dependent benefits:

  • Spouses: Being legally married can bring your spouse benefits based on your earnings record. They are usually equal to 50% of your FRA benefit.
  • Widowers/Widows: For survivors reaching retirement age, they can get 100% of their deceased spouses’s benefits. There are also partial benefits, depending on age and circumstances.
  • Children and grandchildren: There is a situation when children can get the benefits as survivors of their deceased worker parent, and this may transfer to grandchildren if they are dependent on a living parent who receives Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
  • Dependent parents: Parents of a deceased worker at the age of 62 or older can receive 82.5% of the worker benefit, and in the case of two dependent parents, the percentage is 75% each.
    It’s important to know about these potential benefits to maximize your Social Security, as they may be the essence of your retirement strategy.
  • Ex-spouses: A divorce doesn’t mean that you won’t have any access to your ex-spouse’s income. Divorcees can get up to 50% of their former spouse’s PIA, and the condition is that you must have been married for more than 10 years.

7. Coordinate with other retirement income sources.

You will need tax-efficient planning if you coordinate Social Security benefits with other retirement income.

Reduce your overall tax burden by timing withdrawals from tax-deferred retirement accounts like traditional IRAs or 401(k)s. Using other income sources like pensions can allow you to delay claiming your Social Security benefits, leading to their increase over time.

It’s a good idea to review the timing and tax implications. The right strategy with these income streams will enhance your overall financial situation.

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Don’t hesitate to reach out for professional guidance, and keep in mind to make the best of all your incomes to have a relaxed financial situation in your golden years.

If you arrived at the end of the article, congratulations on your retirement or soon retirement! If you have friends around you whom you want to offer a nice gift for arriving in this peaceful period of their life, this is where you can find some elegant retirement sets. I used them as a gift myself and they were highly appreciated.

If you liked our article, there is another one on 8 Money-Wasting Mistakes Retirees Should Avoid.


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