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Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits A Comprehensive Guide



Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits A Comprehensive Guide

Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits A Comprehensive Guide.When it comes to Social Security, your retirement income is closely tied to your career choices. The Social Security Administration sets rules that determine your potential benefits, but the monthly checks received by retirees can vary significantly.

Here, we explore the five key areas that have the most significant impact on your Social Security payments and how you can use them to your financial advantage.

1. Number of Years You Worked

According to the SSA, Social Security benefits are typically calculated using “average indexed monthly earnings,” which summarizes up to 35 years of a worker’s indexed earnings.

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While the calculation may involve technical details such as determining the primary insurance amount (PIA), the essence is that your monthly benefit depends on your 35 highest-earning years as a worker. Working beyond 35 years won’t necessarily boost your payment, but working fewer than 35 years can lower your average payments.

2. How Much You Earn

The second critical factor affecting your Social Security benefits is your earnings during your working years. Social Security taxes are levied on all earnings up to a certain limit. In 2023, 6.2% of your wages go toward Social Security taxes, with this tax ceasing once you reach annual earnings of $160,200. To receive the maximum benefit, you’d need to earn at least $160,200 a year, which is nearly triple the median annual wage.

3. When You Claim Benefits

You have the flexibility to file for Social Security benefits as early as 62 or as late as 70, with the caveat that the longer you wait, the higher your benefit. To receive your full entitled benefits, you must wait until your full retirement age, which is either 66 or 67 years old, depending on your birth year. To maximize your benefit, waiting until age 70 is advisable, although you’re not obliged to claim Social Security at this age.

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4. Marital Status

For retirees who are married or divorced, there’s potential to receive additional monthly income through spousal or divorce benefits. Spousal benefits are accessible if you’re married to someone eligible for Social Security retirement or disability benefits, with the maximum amount being half of your spouse’s benefit at their full retirement age.

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To qualify for divorce benefits, you must not be currently married, and your previous marriage must have lasted for at least ten years. You can’t receive both spousal and work-based benefits simultaneously; you’ll receive the higher of the two amounts.

5. Official Earnings Record

Regardless of your career’s length and earnings, your benefit will ultimately reflect your official earnings record with the SSA. Although it’s unlikely for your record to be inaccurate, there’s always a possibility that your benefit may be higher or lower than expected.

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To ensure the accuracy of your records, you can review your Social Security statement online by creating a “my Social Security” account. This simple step can help you verify your earnings and ensure you receive the benefits you deserve.

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