How to Maximize Your Social Security IncomeLearn how to get the most out of your Social Security benefits for both you and your spouse.

 

To get the most out of your Social Security benefits, you must be aware of some key things. Knowing what Social Security benefits you’re eligible for and the consequences of collecting benefits early are examples of information that can affect your monthly paycheck.

The Social Security Administration was set up in 1935 to provide financial help for disabled and retired people. While you’re in the workforce, you pay taxes that go toward Social Security. When you retire or if you become disabled, you can apply to receive monthly Social Security benefits that are based on your reported earnings.

As of June 2016, 60 million people — or one in six people living in the U.S. — receive Social Security benefits.

Learn: What You Can Buy With the Average Social Security Check

What Is the Maximum Social Security Benefit?

In 2017, benefits increased by 0.3 percent. The maximum taxable earnings figure for 2016 is $118,500, which jumps to $127,200 for 2017. The Social Security tax rate if you’re an employee is 7.65 percent and 15.3 percent if you’re self-employed. If you reach your full retirement age in 2017, the maximum you can collect each month is $2,687.

Three Ways to Maximize Social Security Benefits

If you’re looking to get the most out of your SS benefits, you have some options. Here are three easy ways to do it.

1. Delay Collecting Benefits

There’s no “right” age to collect Social Security retirement benefits; it depends on many factors, including your ability to work, your health, and your income and expenses.

You can collect Social Security benefits as early as age 62 and as late as 70. Full retirement age for most people is 66 or 67, depending on when you were born. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, full retirement age is 66; that age qualification gradually increases if you were born after 1954. Currently, the full retirement age is capped at 67 for anyone born after 1960.

People usually want to know one thing when it comes to retiring: “How can I maximize my Social Security check?” In a nutshell, the longer you wait to collect your benefits, the more you’ll receive each month.

Collecting at full retirement age means you’ll receive 100 percent of your benefits. If your full retirement age is 67 and you choose to cash in early — after age 62 but before age 67 — you’ll lose about 30 percent of your monthly retirement check. This reduced amount is locked in for life, so make sure you crunch the numbers before you choose to collect early.

If you delay collecting benefits up until the age of 70, the monthly amount you receive will increase the longer you wait. The maximum you can increase your benefits is by 32 percent.

Also, keep in mind that the cost of Medicare might increase the longer you wait to enroll, so even if you decide to postpone collecting you benefits, you should enroll in Medicare when you reach the age of 65.

2. Beware of the Windfall Elimination Provision

The Windfall Elimination Provision goes into effect when you receive a pension from an employer who didn’t take Social Security taxes out of your paychecks; it might result in your benefit check being reduced, depending on how long you contributed to Social Security over your lifetime.

For example, if you turn 62 in 2016 and had 23 years of substantial earnings on which you paid Social Security tax, your reduction would be approximately $299.60 per month, according to the Social Security Administration.

If you’ve paid Social Security tax on 30 years of substantial earnings, there’s good news: The Windfall Elimination Provision would not apply to you.

Related: 26 Unsettling Truths About Social Security

3. Know Your Eligibility Status

You could be eligible for other benefits in addition to your own retirement check. For instance, you might qualify for spousal benefits, which are based on your living spouse’s earnings; or survivor benefits, which are available in the event your spouse passes away; or disability benefits.

You can’t combine these benefits; you must collect only one at a time. More good news: The SSA will automatically give you the largest check for which you qualify.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 recently made some changes to Social Security’s laws about claiming retirement and spousal benefits and closed a loophole called “file and suspend.” This loophole provided incentives to delay claiming retirement benefits, such as monthly benefits growing larger for each month you delayed receiving retirement benefits between full retirement age and 70.

“The file-and-suspend loophole, which allowed people at full retirement age to collect one benefit while allowing another to grow through delayed retirement credits, has been closed,” said Pamela Causey, director of communications for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

However, if you’re currently eligible for only one benefit — for example, your spousal benefit — and later become eligible for your retirement benefit, you’re allowed to choose whichever one is higher.

Related: Why Social Security Should Not Be Your Retirement Plan

Check Your Status Before You Retire

These three key pieces of information are critical in understanding how you can beef up your retirement check. Making big decisions like when to retire has a huge impact on your monthly benefits, especially because some decisions can’t be undone later.

If you’re not certain how much you’re eligible for, check with your local Social Security office before you retire so you can start the planning process. Knowing your options and how they affect your monthly checks is the first step in coming up with a strategy to maximize how much you’ll get each month.

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