There are seven Social Security retirement secrets you need to know before you apply! These benefits should be straightforward but, like most government programs, they’re really not. Here’s what you need to know.
You can get details online before you’re ready to claim your benefits.
You can establish a MySocialSecurity account online today! This account can show you an estimate of your future benefits.
Creating an account is easy. You just need to go to SocialSecurity.gov/myaccount and select “create an account.” Follow the prompts to tell the office who you are, verify your identity and complete the security protocols.
Once you’re in the system, you’ll be able to see how much you’ve paid into Social Security, get an estimate of your future payments and even see how much you’d receive if you became disabled. It’s a very helpful tool for people of all ages, but more than half of all Americans have not registered their account yet. In fact, 51% of people surveyed by the Nationwide Retirement Institute had no idea how much money they would get in Social Security income.
While you’re in your account, be sure to check your work credits and earnings to make sure that everything is accurate!
Claiming your benefits early can significantly reduce the amount of your benefits.
Claiming your benefits early results in a permanent reduction, but 45% of people surveyed by Nationwide believed that the reduction is temporary and only lasts until they reach the full retirement age (FRA). That’s not accurate. If you claim your benefits early, the amount you receive will be permanently reduced, and you’ll receive the lower amount even after you reach your full retirement age.
According to the Nationwide survey, more than two-thirds (68%) of workers over the age of 50 don’t know what their FRA is. That’s a big problem! The full retirement age is 67 for anyone born after 1960. Before 1960, the full retirement age is 66, or 66 plus a few months.
However, an astonishing 89% of retirees begin claiming their benefits at age 62. That’s the earliest you can claim benefits, but your benefits will be permanently reduced by 30% if you make that choice. You’ll get 7-8% more for every year that you wait to start your benefits. Generally, you will be better off delaying Social Security if you expect to live past the age of 80.
You’ll receive smaller checks for the rest of your life if you choose to retire and claim your benefits early, so be very careful!
If you have already claimed your benefits, you may be able to get a do-over. According to US News, if you have already claimed Social Security and received a reduced payout, you can pay back the entire amount that you’ve received without interest and then claim the higher payments for the rest of your life… but that’s expensive, and that can be difficult for low income seniors.
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You need to understand how your Social Security benefits will be calculated.
That same survey by Nationwide found that 91% of workers age 50 and older said they didn’t know how Social Security was calculated. That’s a problem, because if you don’t know how it’s calculated then you won’t know how to maximize your benefits.
There are several factors that are used to calculate your benefits, and you can control most of them. The four primary factors are how long you worked, how much you earned, what year you were born and how long you wait to claim benefits.
Your benefits will also be affected by how many years you work and how much you earn. Your full benefit amount is based on an average of your 35 highest-earning working years. If you work less than 35 years, your average will be drastically reduced because you’ll have zeroes factored into your average. If you work more than 35 years, you can hopefully replace some of those lower-earning years with higher-earning ones… and working longer can help you wait to claim your benefits so that you’ll receive more in each check.
Spouses are entitled to up to 50% of the higher-earning spouse’s Social Security award.
If you are married at least 10 years, your work records and Social Security benefits are linked. This benefit survives death and even divorce (as long as you don’t remarry). It’s something that you need to clearly understand if you are or have been married, and your spouse earned more than you.
Basically, if you wait until your full retirement age, you’ll be eligible to claim 50% of your spouse’s Social Security benefit amount. If you claim the benefits early, you’ll receive less. US News reports that a lower-earning spouse who chooses to retire at 62 instead of 66 would only receive 35% of their higher-earning spouse’s benefit amount. And again, that lower amount would continue for the rest of their life.
One catch here is that the lower-earning spouse cannot claim their benefits until the higher earner has filed for their own Social Security benefits UNLESS they are divorced (more on that in a moment). One way that couples have gotten around this limitation is to have the higher earner claim and then suspend their benefits. This pauses their benefits and allows them to continue working until their full retirement age, while the lower-earning spouse starts their claim right away.
The spousal benefit includes many divorced spouses.
If you have divorced and you’re still single, you can still claim spousal benefits. If you have been divorced for at least two years before claiming your Social Security benefits, you don’t even need to wait for your ex to file first! You can go ahead and claim your spousal benefit, as long as you meet the minimum age requirements.
It’s also important to note that your claim will not reduce or affect your former spouse’s benefits.
Another thing we should point out here is that you won’t be able to receive your benefits and your spouse’s benefit. The office will pay you the higher of the two benefit amounts.
Surviving spouses can get a survivor’s benefit.
After one spouse dies, the surviving spouses will be entitled to the higher-earner’s full retirement benefit. Surviving spouses can begin receiving Social Security benefits at age 60, or age 50 if they are disabled. Benefits are reduced by up to 28.5% if claimed before the recipient’s full retirement age.
This is one case where it really helps to have the higher earning spouse continue working as long as possible. According to Emily Brandon at US News, a spouse can increase their spouse’s survivor’s benefit by up to 60% if they wait until age 70 to claim their Social Security benefits.
You will probably see small increases over time.
Social Security benefits often receive COLA adjustments, which are Cost of Living Adjustments. These are meant to offset inflation and help benefits keep the pace with increased prices.
Get more Social Security retirement secrets.
Of course, these adjustments rarely make a meaningful impact and many seniors who rely on Social Security retirement live in poverty. Here’s how to get financial help for seniors.