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13 ways to get more Social Security

There are steps you can take now to substantially increase your Social Security payments during retirement.

By Stacy Johnson Jan 18, 2013 5:29PM

This post comes from Renee Morad at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News logoThe average monthly Social Security benefit for a retiree in 2013 is estimated at $1,261, according to the Social Security Administration. That's just $15,132 a year -- for many people, hardly enough to live on.


Hopefully when you reach retirement, you'll have a nice nest egg to offset hurdles like vanishing pensions and unpredictable stock market returns. But either way, there are certain actions you can take today to boost your Social Security payments during retirement, and they can add up to thousands of extra dollars in your golden years.


Here are 13 things you can think about today to increase your Social Security payments during retirement:


1. Work at least 35 years

Social Security benefits are calculated based on your 35 highest-earning working years. If you work fewer years, you'll have years with zero income averaged in, which will lower your payout.


2. Ask for a raise

If you experience a jump in salary, you'll likely boost your future earning potential and may see an increase in your Social Security payments down the road because, as we just explained, Social Security takes into account the 35 top-earning years of your career.


3. Take a second job

The same logic applies: If you earn more each year, you'll likely increase the amount you get in Social Security when you retire.


Image: Senior with Laptop © H-Gall, Vetta, Getty Images4. Wait until full retirement age to claim Social Security

You can begin collecting Social Security benefits as early as age 62, but you might not want to: Your benefit will be reduced by 25% for life. To get your full payment, wait until you reach full retirement age -- 66 for anyone born between 1943 and 1954. For those born from 1955 to 1959, the age gradually rises toward 67. For those born in 1960, it's 67.


5. Better yet, wait until age 70

If you can afford to wait until age 70 to claim Social Security benefits, it'll pay off. Thanks to what the Social Security Administration calls "delayed retirement credits," benefits increase 8% each year you delay tapping into Social Security -- up until age 70. So waiting until you reach 70 means about a third more income for life.


When considering this strategy, it's particularly beneficial for the higher-earning spouse in a marriage to hold out until age 70 to increase the total benefits the couple will receive throughout their lifetimes. In the event that the spouse with the higher benefit passes away, the surviving spouse will receive the higher payment.


If you took benefits early and regret the move, it might not be too late to fix it. Under limited circumstances, you may be able to repay all the benefits you received so far and restart them at a higher level based on your age. For more details, check out this page on the SSA website.


6. Use online tools

If you're unsure about the best time to claim benefits based on your individual budget, health, life expectancy, or other factors, use online resources to help you decide. A good place to start is, where you'll get your personalized statement. This estimates what your benefits will be at age 62, at full retirement age, or at age 70.


Once you get estimates for both you and, if applicable, your spouse, there are other online tools that compare your benefits under various scenarios to help you determine the best claiming strategy. Consider AARP's Social Security benefits calculator


7. Claim spousal benefits

If you're married, you have a choice: You can either take the benefit based on your work history, or half your spouse's benefit. So if your spouse earned a lot more than you did, and has a higher benefit as a result, compare and see which will pay the most.


You can also claim Social Security benefits based on an ex-spouse's work record if you were married for at least 10 years. Doing so doesn't reduce your former spouse's check or otherwise impact him or her. In fact, he or she need never know you applied.


8. Taking early retirement? Beware of outside income

If you start taking benefits before reaching your full retirement age, employment elsewhere can reduce your Social Security checks.


For example, say you started taking Social Security in 2012 at age 62 and your full retirement age is 66. For 2012, your benefit would be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earned in gross wages or net self-employment income above $14,640.


If you reached full retirement age in 2012, you could have earned up to $38,880 prior to the month you turned 66. More than that, and your benefit would be reduced by $1 for every $3 you earned.


After you reach full retirement age, you get your full benefit no matter how much you earn.


9. Claim twice

Let's say the husband is 66 and the wife is 62. If the husband files for benefits, the wife could opt for half her husband's benefit, while still earning money and letting her benefit grow. She can drop the spousal benefit and file for benefits based on her own work record whenever she wants. If she waits until age 70, she'll have the maximum benefit using her own history.


There are lots of strategies like this to maximize Social Security. As you approach retirement age, be sure and do lots of reading. This article from Kiplinger is a good place to start.


10. Benefits for your kids

When you start collecting Social Security benefits, unmarried dependent children under age 18 may qualify to receive benefits worth up to half of your full retirement benefit amount. This can include a biological child, adopted child, stepchild or dependent grandchild. He or she may also get benefits at age 18 or 19 as a full-time student (no higher than grade 12) or 18 or older if the individual has a disability that began before age 22.


11. Plan ahead for taxes

If the sum of your adjusted gross income, nontaxable interest income, and half your 2012 Social Security benefits exceeds $34,000 -- or $44,000 for couples -- up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable.


There's not much you can do about this, but there are a few strategies that might work. For example, if you earn interest from taxable savings and don't need the income, you could transfer those savings into a tax-deferred investment, like an annuity.


12. Do your due diligence

Read your Social Security statements to be sure everything has been reported correctly. Although inaccuracies are uncommon, some scenarios, such as a name change, lend themselves to a greater chance of error. 


13. Clear your debts

Your Social Security benefits are protected from most debt collections, but they can be taken for federal taxes, federal student loan balances and child support or alimony. Clearing these debts will leave your Social Security benefits untouched.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:


Jan 18, 2013 7:59PM
Everybody and everyone has different circumstances.  Listen to no one except yourself.  I say, live long and work less.  Enjoy life while you can.  Life is to short and illness can take away those golden years real fast.  Work until your 70 only if you want to.  I won't do that, I'll be lucky just to remember my name if I get that old.
Jan 18, 2013 7:58PM
Why is it that the politicians keep raising our age limit to receive social security benefit but yet they can retire with full benefits at age 50? 
Jan 18, 2013 7:53PM

i am getting my social security this november when i turn 62 !!

i will not wait any longer


Jan 18, 2013 7:38PM

It was wrong that the government changed the age of full benefits for those who were born after 1943.  When I started paying into this scam known as social security I was suppose to receive full benefits at the age of 65, but now it is almost 67.  You don't change the rules mid-stream because they are to your advantage.  If they wanted to change it, it should have been for those who had not started working and paying into it yet.


Now they are talking about changing medicare to age 67 also.  How do they expect jobs to open up for the younger generation coming into the workforce if they have to pay thousands a year into a bottomless pit of insurance premimums? 


Our government is loaded with schemes to rip off the working person and give it to the scabs who sit on their butts and do nothing.  Pretty soon (if not now), it is like, Why work?


I also agree with others that SS will not be around when I come of age to collect, or they will tell me since I did what I was suppose to and put away for my retirement, I don't need it so I cannot collect.


My $0.02 worth.

Jan 18, 2013 7:23PM
Go get a second job? There are not enough first jobs to go around, and we are supposed to just go get a second job? Where do these article writers come from? They all live in some utopia that doesnt exist
Jan 18, 2013 7:22PM
yep.  don't believe all you hear.  While these thoughts may be true, look closely before making a decision as to what is best for you.  Look at the obits.  See how many people are in the obits before age 62.  We hear how we are "living longer."  Well, look at the graves in almost any cemetery.   You'll see a lot of short ones.  If you think the government wants you to collect more money on SS, then you probably also believe the power company wants to save you money on your electric bill.
Jan 18, 2013 7:14PM
Forget that 35 years if you took time off to raise a family.  And, that step about asking for a raise is laughable in these times.  If you want a raise, you will simply have to find another job that pays more.  And, considering all the hours that one puts in at work and later at home for more job related work, having a second job is just plain impossible.  If you want to end up on disability, just work yourself into oblivion.  That works out well for all the doctors and hospitals.............
Jan 18, 2013 6:41PM
I have paid into Social Security since I began earning a paycheck back in 1975, but I doubt I will ever see a penny paid out to me.
Jan 18, 2013 6:38PM
If your on this planet you'll know that most individuals in their late fifties or sixties don't have those options.  Get real!
Jan 18, 2013 6:29PM
...ask for a raise? LOL. Wow, thanks for tip.
Social security is a great program.  It's  there not only for retirement, but for surviving children and disabled workers as well, and lots of other instances, as this article points out.  It's the richest pension fund in the world, with $2.7 trillion in the bank, and it's got so much money the government can't leave it alone.  It's properly funded through employer and employee payroll deductions and safely invested in United States Treasury bonds, fully insured with no limit.   It pays a maximum of $2,500 per month and an average of about $1,250 per month.  Unlike so many of these bankrupt state and local pension funds, it doesn't pay out $10,000 per month benefits that it can't afford and then come running to the taxpayers to bail them out.
Jan 18, 2013 6:16PM
I wish my social security was $1500/month My $11,200 a year is really HARD to live on and pay all the bills You pay into it all your working life and this is all you get.
Jan 18, 2013 6:11PM
Pay your fair share!  How do I get maximum tax refunds, maximum benifits yes?
Jan 18, 2013 5:59PM
Come on guys, can't you do any better than that to increase profits.  I say let's do away with child labor laws, that way your corporate property taxes will go down because  kids won't be in school, they definitely don't need as much health care and few 8 year olds are smart enough to bargain for a decent wage.  Don't thank me, I am sure you would have thought of it next.
Jan 18, 2013 5:58PM
It burns me up to be taxe on any amount of my Social Security. I paid taxes on this money at the time it was earned Talk about double taxation.
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