According to the Social Security Administration, the maximum monthly distribution amount for 2024 is $4,873. However, the average middle-class retiree receives just $1,710.78 per month. This amount is important since about 40% of Social Security recipients' monthly checks account for at least 50% of their total income in retirement. While jumping from $1,710 to $4,873 in monthly check amounts might be unrealistic, you can increase your Social Security benefits in several ways. Here are some things you can try to help maximize your benefits each month.
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Consider delaying benefits
The easiest way to increase your monthly check amount in retirement is to delay claiming Social Security. The earliest you can claim benefits is 62, with the “full retirement age” considered 67, and 70 the latest age to claim — and the payment difference is significant.
Assuming a $1,000 full benefit at 67, the retiree who chose to claim at 62 would receive $700 per month, and the retiree who decided to claim at 70 would receive $1,240 per month. That’s a $540 monthly increase simply for waiting until 70 to claim.
Several factors influence the decision to delay claiming benefits. Some seniors may decide to work longer and retire later. In contrast, others retire but live off other sources of income like 401ks and investment accounts until they decide to take Social Security.
While it might be unavoidable for some to claim early, it might be wise to wait until full retirement age to claim your benefit to maximize the amount you receive each month. Remember that the total amount of your overall benefit throughout your life will be the same whether you claim early or late.
The amount you receive is calculated using your 35 highest earning salary years and your age — you'll get less at 62 and more at 70, but the overall amount nets out to the same. Deciding when you claim ultimately depends on lifestyle and secondary income.
Apply for lesser-known benefits
The Social Security Administration offers multiple types of benefits that can increase the size of your monthly benefit and make extra money if you qualify. Many people miss these benefits simply because they are unaware they exist.
- Disability benefits
- Spousal benefits
- Divorced spousal benefits
- Child benefits
- Child-in-care spousal benefits
- Parent’s benefits
- Survivors benefits
- Grandchild benefits
- Death benefits
Spousal benefits can significantly boost your monthly Social Security check by as much as $800 a month, which makes a big difference for seniors living on fixed incomes. These benefits allow you to receive Social Security benefits based on your spouse's earnings. If their earnings are higher than yours, you can continue receiving your current monthly benefit plus an additional amount based on your spouse’s earning record. You receive nothing without applying, so avoid making this mistake by staying on top of your options.
Another available benefit commonly lost on seniors includes the grandchild benefit. If grandchildren live with you, Social Security will pay benefits to grandchildren when the grandparent retires, becomes disabled, or dies if certain conditions are met. In general, the biological parents of the child must be deceased or disabled, or the grandparent must legally adopt the grandchild. The child receives a monthly benefit from the SSA to help with the overall expenses of the home after the grandparent has retired.
The SSA urges those who might think they are eligible to apply for all the above benefits. The SSA can determine eligibility or clarify what is needed to get the benefit. If you qualify for any of these benefits, you'll need to apply for them. You will not automatically receive additional benefits from the SSA if you do not apply.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
SSI is a monthly payment for people with disabilities and older adults who have little or no income and resources. With the cost of living increasing every year and inflation having affected prices significantly, taking advantage of SSI can help tackle monthly expenses.
Seniors can use SSI as an additional payment on top of their regular Social Security benefit check each month. If you qualify, this would mean two separate payments per month. The SSA states adults and children might be eligible for SSI if they have:
- Little or no income, and
- Little or no resources, and
- A disability, blindness, or are age 65 or older.
This means seniors who rely solely on their Social Security check each month for most of their overall income should also look into receiving SSI payments.
If delaying benefits is not an option, Social Security has many benefits available to seniors to help prepare for retirement and boost their monthly payments. The catch is knowing the benefits are out there and then applying to make sure you receive them. A good rule of thumb is to apply for any extra benefits you think you might qualify for, and the SSA will work with you to figure out how much additional benefit you may receive.
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