Social Security Timeline: When Should High-Earning Seniors Claim Benefits?

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Even if you’re a six-figure earner with additional retirement savings beyond Social Security, the federal benefits program could make up a significant portion of your retirement income. After all, you’ve contributed money to the fund for most of your working life. And this year, with the maximum earnings subject to Social Security tax rising to $147,000 (up from $142,000 last year), you’ll be paying more than ever into the fund.

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If you’re trying to maximize your Social Security payouts as a high earner, when should you begin taking payouts?

First, it’s important to understand that continuing to work longer and collecting Social Security later won’t necessarily increase your benefit amount. Payments are based on the 35 years that you earned the most money. Therefore, if you’ve maximized your earning power and then decided to cut back to a position with fewer responsibilities and lower pay — or even took a part-time job as you approached full retirement — you aren’t increasing your Social Security payments by waiting to collect benefits.

Retire Comfortably

The best way to maximize your Social Security benefits is to live a long life and start collecting as early as your full benefits are available, or when you reach full retirement age. Full retirement age varies depending on when you were born. For anyone born after 1960, full retirement age is 67 years old. For most people, it’s best to begin collecting Social Security benefits at age 67 or when they reach full retirement age. But there are a few other factors to consider.

Forbes writer Matt Dixon, CEO and financial planner at TruNorth Advisor, said, “If you live to a normal life expectancy, taking payments early is the best way to get all you can out of Social Security.” Dixon recommended checking your projected Social Security payments at SSA.gov as you plan for retirement. Then calculate your total retirement income based on Social Security plus IRA and 401(k) withdrawals, plus pensions and investment income.

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Retire Comfortably

Unlike your other retirement investments, if you don’t use your Social Security benefits, you will lose them. Therefore, Dixon said, it might make sense to spend your Social Security benefits first. Use your other retirement income as needed so you can enjoy your retirement. But remember, if you don’t use your other investment money, you can still pass it on to your heirs to give them a head start on securing their financial future or even donate it to a favorite charity to help others and keep your legacy alive after your death.

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About the Author

Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer and content marketing specialist who geeks out about finance, e-commerce, technology, and real estate. Her lengthy list of publishing credits include Bankrate, Lending Tree, and Chase Bank. She is the founder and owner of GeekTravelGuide.net, a travel, technology, and entertainment website. She lives on Long Island, New York, with a veritable menagerie that includes 2 cats, a rambunctious kitten, and three lizards of varying sizes and personalities – plus her two kids and husband. Find her on Twitter, @DawnAllcot.

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