How To Get a Social Security Bonus

Retirement Financial Planning Concept.
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Let’s get one thing out of the way up front — strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as a Social Security “bonus.” However, there are definitely steps you can take to enhance the amount of your retirement benefits.

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As your Social Security payouts may last for decades, it’s important to get as much out of them as you can. While there’s no magic in these steps, they are bulletproof ways for you to boost the amount of your Social Security checks. Let’s run through them now.

Earn as Much as You Can

One of the two key components to generating a large Social Security check is to earn as much as you can. The Social Security Administration bases your payout on a complicated formula that includes your highest 35 years of earnings.

If you don’t yet have 35 years of earnings, or if you didn’t earn much in some of those years, the trick to get a “bonus” in your Social Security check is to fill up that grid with as many high-earning years as you can before you retire.

Retire Comfortably

Wait as Long as You Can

The other major factor in determining the size of your Social Security check is the age at which you file for benefits. Qualifying retirees can claim their checks as early as age 62 or as late as age 70, with age 67 being the so-called “full retirement age” for most current workers.

Claiming “early,” at age 62, will result in the permanent reduction of your Social Security checks by up to 30%. Waiting until age 70, however, has the opposite effect. For every year that you delay claiming past full retirement age, your monthly benefits will get an 8% “bonus.” That amounts to a whopping 24% if you wait to file until age 70.

As these benefits will last for the rest of your life, if you’re in good health and can afford to wait, filing at age 70 can trigger a significant Social Security “bonus.”

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Check Spousal Benefits

Even if you never worked a day in your life, you may be eligible for spousal Social Security benefits. These can reach as much as 50% of your spouse’s benefit if you wait to file until full retirement age.

Retire Comfortably

Even if you’re divorced, you may be entitled to spousal benefits if you were originally married for at least 10 years. Depending on your work history, it’s very possible that you are entitled to a spousal benefit “bonus” that amounts to more than your own Social Security payout.

Remember the Annual COLA

The annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, is the closest thing to an outright “bonus” that Social Security offers. Every year, the Social Security Administration reviews benefit payouts and adjusts them upwards based on the then-current rate of inflation.

In some years, like 2010, 2011, and 2016, the COLA was 0%, as inflation was essentially nonexistent. But in January 2022, Social Security recipients received a big “bonus” in the form of a 5.8% COLA. This was the highest upward revision since July 1982. As inflation is continuing to run hot through May 2022, Social Security recipients might see another big boost upwards in January 2023. 

Social Security Bonus 2022

Again, while there’s no such thing as a Social Security “bonus,” there are ways that your payment can be boosted both before and after you retire. Earning more for longer is the first step, and filing late completes the picture from a taxpayer’s perspective. From there, it’s up to the federal government to adjust your payment upwards in response to current inflationary trends. 

Bear in mind that choosing to wait until age 70 to claim your Social Security benefits can have various repercussions. For starters, you’ll have to wait a full eight years from the time you could have claimed benefits, at age 62. That amounts to 96 monthly checks you’ll have to forgo while you wait to file your claim.

If you’re in poor health or if you need the money to live on right away, waiting until age 70 to claim may not be the best option. That’s why it’s always a good idea to speak with a retirement specialist and/or tax advisor long before you devise your Social Security claiming strategy.

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About the Author

After earning a B.A. in English with a Specialization in Business from UCLA, John Csiszar worked in the financial services industry as a registered representative for 18 years. Along the way, Csiszar earned both Certified Financial Planner and Registered Investment Adviser designations, in addition to being licensed as a life agent, while working for both a major Wall Street wirehouse and for his own investment advisory firm. During his time as an advisor, Csiszar managed over $100 million in client assets while providing individualized investment plans for hundreds of clients.

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