Medicare, Social Security, and Insurance

7/27/2021 | By Terri L. Jones

You might assume that you don’t have any control over your Social Security benefits. They are what they are, right? Wrong! Just like managing the money in your 401(k), there are ways to maximize Social Security benefits for a more comfortable retirement.

Wait, wait, and wait some more.

The first rule of thumb is to wait as long as possible to collect your benefits. While you can start tapping into Social Security benefits at 62, you’ll get a permanently reduced monthly amount. To secure your full benefit, wait until you’ve reached your full retirement age, which is based on when you were born. Delaying benefits past your full retirement age means you’ll get an extra 8 percent per year up until age 70 (called a delayed retirement credit). If you live a long life, that extra money will add up and you’ll probably end up with a bigger pile of money than if you started collecting earlier.

The benefits of being married to maximize Social Security benefits.

If you’re married but have earned less than your spouse, claiming a spousal benefit means you’ll receive up to 50 percent of your spouse’s benefit at your full retirement age. This benefit replaces your own lower benefit and can only be taken when your husband or wife starts collecting their benefits.

Divorce isn’t the end.

Even if you’re divorced (but married for at least 10 years), you can still collect these spousal benefits, but you don’t have to wait until your ex-spouse starts collecting if you’ve been divorced for two years or more. If you’ve been married and divorced more than once, you may choose the ex-husband or wife with the higher benefit. Your ex’s benefit will not be reduced (they won’t even know about it)! But don’t delay claiming these benefits past your full retirement age because they won’t continue to grow like your own benefits. Also, remember that you will lose these benefits when you remarry.

Neither is death.

If your spouse has passed away, you are eligible for a survivor benefit if the two of you were married for at least nine months. You’ll get 100 percent of your spouse’s benefit if you wait until your full retirement age to collect. You can claim this survivor benefit even if you and your spouse were divorced at the time of death but were married for at least 10 years and neither of you remarried before age 60.

However, you don’t have to choose your survivor benefit over your own benefit. You can take advantage of both. For example, if your benefit is less than your spouse’s, consider claiming your own reduced retirement benefit as early as age 62 and letting your survivor benefit grow until you reach full retirement age (it will never exceed more than 100 percent of your spouse’s benefit so in this case, don’t wait until age 70 to claim it). However, if your own benefit at age 70 will exceed the survivor benefit at your full retirement age, take the reduced survivor benefit as early as age 60, and let your own benefit grow to the max. Comparing your benefit at age 70 and your survivor benefit at full retirement age will tell you which route to take to maximize Social Security benefits.

There are some exceptions to the rules above so be sure to check the Social Security website for full details.

Related: Beware of Scammers Pretending to Be From Social Security

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones