5 Tips to Increase Your Social Security Check

SSA-image-3My Comments: It may be too late to make changes, but if signing up for Social Security benefits is still on your horizon, some of this WILL help you. (Are you listening Eric?)

 

By Richard Best | August 16, 2016

When Social Security was introduced in 1935, it was never intended to be a primary income source that could support people in retirement. Rather, its sole purpose was to provide a safety net for people who were unable to accumulate sufficient retirement savings. For the next seven decades, the majority of Americans never gave much thought to their Social Security because of shorter life spans and a reliance on guaranteed pensions. Today, an increasing number of people are starting to pay attention to their benefits, and Social Security planning is becoming a vital element in securing lifetime income sufficiency. Although there are many planning options for receiving Social Security benefits, they can be complex and only apply to certain circumstances. At a minimum, these are some planning tips that everyone should follow in order to increase the size of their Social Security checks.

Work the Full 35 Years

The Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates your final benefit amount based on your lifetime earnings covering your highest 35 years of work history. The SSA totals your earnings of your highest 35 years and averages them by using an average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) formula. If you entered the workforce late, or had periods of unemployment, those years will count as zeroes, which will be included in the formula, bringing down the average. Once you have worked 35 years, each additional year of earnings, will replace an earlier year of lower earnings, which will increase the average.

Max Out Earnings Through Full Retirement Age

The SSA calculates your benefit amount based on your earnings, so that the more you earn, the higher your benefit amount will be. Earnings above the annual cap ($118,500 in 2016 and indexed to inflation each year), are left out of the calculation. Your goal should be to maximize your peak earning years, striving to earn at or above the cap. Some pre-retirees look for ways to increase their income, such as taking on part-time work or generating business income. Unaware of the impact on benefits, some pre-retirees scale back on their work or semi-retire, which can lower their Social Security income.

Delay Benefits

Most people know their full retirement age (FRA) – the Social Security age at which they can receive their full Social Security benefits. For most people retiring today, the FRA age is 66. But very few people know that if they delay their Social Security benefits until after they reach FRA, they can effectively earn an 8% annual return on their available benefits. The benefit amount increases by 8% each year that it is delayed until age 70. That is based on the delayed retirement credits (DRCs) earned for each year that you delay your Social Security benefits.

For example, if you are eligible for a primary insurance amount (PIA) of $2,000, or $24,000, at age 66, then by waiting until age 70, your annual benefit would increase to $31,680. In cumulative terms, you would increase your total benefits from $378,000 received by your life expectancy at age 82 to $411,000.

This example doesn’t account for cost of living adjustments (COLAs). Assuming a 2.5% COLA, your delayed benefit would grow to $38,599 and your total benefit amount would increase to $584,000 by age 82.

Claim Spousal Benefits Early

If you and your spouse are 62 years of age or over, one of you can claim spousal benefits while the other delays benefits until age 70. The spouse receiving spousal benefits can then switch to full benefits after attaining FRA. To be eligible, you must have been married for at least 10 years to your spouse or ex-spouse (whoever is to receive the benefit). This option works best where one spouse earned more money than the other, because the spousal benefit amount is based on half of the full benefit amount of the higher-earning spouse.

Avoid Social Security Tax

If you are planning on supplementing your retirement income by working after you start receiving Social Security benefits, then you need to be aware of the tax consequences. Anywhere from 50 to 85% of benefit payment can be subject to federal taxes. To determine how much of your benefits will be taxed, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will add your nontaxable interest and half of your Social Security income to your adjusted gross income (AGI). If that total amounts to $25,000 to $34,000 for single filers, or $32,000 to $44,000 for joint filers, up to 50% of your Social Security income is subject to tax. When that amount exceeds $34,000 for a single filer or $44,000 for joint filers, up to 85% of your benefits is subject to taxes. You can possibly avoid paying taxes on your Social Security income by considering ways to spread out your income from various sources so as to prevent any increases that could trigger a higher tax.

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