More than $955 billion of Social Security benefits was paid out in 2017, according to the Social Security Administration. Maximizing your take of these benefits boosts your spending money. But doing it wisely also helps reduce the amount of taxes you pay.
Whether you're approaching retirement age or have already started taking benefits, there are hacks you need to know to maximize your share of Social Security. Following are six Social Security hacks you need to know.
Defer Benefits to Increase the Monthly Benefit Amount
Although it might be tempting to take Social Security benefits as soon as possible, carefully consider your options. The longer you wait before applying for benefits — at least up to age 70 — the larger your monthly benefit will be.
Depending on when you were born, taking retirement benefits at age 62 results in a 20 percent to 30 percent reduction in your monthly benefit versus waiting until your full retirement age to start benefits. Worse, if you're claiming early under a spouse's work record, your benefit decreases by 25 percent to 35 percent.
You can wait even past your full retirement age to further increase your monthly benefit amount. Each year you wait up until the year you turn 70, your benefit will increase by between 5.5 percent and 8 percent per year. If you wait longer than 65, make sure you still sign up for Medicare when you turn 65.
If you are in poor health and do not expect to live long, waiting a few years for a higher benefit that might never be paid likely won't make sense for you. For example, waiting will backfire if you wait three extra years so that your benefit is larger, but only live for a year to receive and enjoy the higher benefit amount. In such a circumstance, you would have received a larger benefit overall if you had started claiming as soon as possible.
Use Your Spousal Benefit
If you're married, make sure to compare the benefit under your own work record to the benefit you can receive under your spouse's work record. For example, if you stayed at home with your kids, you might not have paid as much in Social Security taxes as a spouse who spent more years in the workforce.
As a result, you might be entitled to a higher benefit on the spouse's record. SSA will pay out your own benefit first, and then will pay out an additional amount until you reach the spouse's higher benefit level.
If you were born before Jan. 1, 1954, you can opt to claim a restricted benefit under your spouse's record once you reach full retirement, and then wait until 70 to claim full benefits under your own record. Such a move allows your benefits to increase in the interim. SSA rules have closed this loophole for anyone not born before this date.
Even if you're divorced, you might not be out of luck. You can still qualify for benefits under your ex-spouse's work record if you were married for at least 10 years, you are 62 or older and you are not married to someone else at the time you apply for benefits. In addition, the benefit you receive for your own work has to be lower than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse's working history.
If your former spouse hasn't started claiming benefits, you can still claim them if you have been divorced for at least two years and your spouse is eligible to receive them. In addition, your former spouse cannot oppose you claiming under his work record. Your claim does not affect how much your former spouse receives.