9 Ways Your Social Security Payment Can Be Bigger Than Expected

You can take steps to boost your monthly income.

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Updated July 18, 2024
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As you approach retirement, understanding how to maximize your Social Security benefits can significantly impact your financial well-being.

Many people are unaware of the various factors that can enhance their Social Security payments. In this article, we’ll explore nine ways your Social Security payment can be bigger than expected, helping you plan for a stress-free retirement.

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Annual COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment)

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One of the significant ways Social Security benefits can increase is through the annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). This adjustment helps your benefits keep pace with inflation, ensuring that your purchasing power remains relatively stable.

While the COLA is automatically applied, there are additional ways that can increase your benefits even further.

You delay receiving benefits until full retirement age

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Delaying your Social Security benefits until you reach full retirement age (FRA) can substantially increase your monthly payments. The FRA varies depending on the year you were born, typically ranging between 66 and 67 years old.

If you wait until FRA to start collecting benefits, you avoid the reduction applied to early claims, which can significantly enhance your overall benefits. If you wait until after FRA to start collecting your benefits, your monthly benefits get an 8% boost each year up until age 70.

You earn money while receiving benefits

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Social Security calculates your benefit amount based on your highest 35 years of earnings. If you continue working after you start receiving benefits, your additional earnings may replace lower-earning years in your calculation, potentially increasing your monthly payments.

This strategy can be particularly effective if you take on higher-paying roles or additional jobs later in your career.

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As a married couple, one claims benefits at full retirement age and the other waits until age 70

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Married couples can maximize their Social Security benefits through strategic claiming. For example, if one spouse claims benefits at their FRA, the other can delay until age 70, allowing their benefit to grow due to delayed retirement credits.

This approach can provide a higher combined benefit, offering more financial security during retirement.

You take on a side hustle later in your career

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Taking on a side hustle or additional work later in your career can boost your Social Security benefits. For example, if you earned an extra $10,000 per year dog-walking during the last few years leading up to retirement, this extra income will count toward calculating your Social Security benefit.

Similar to earning money while receiving benefits, increasing your income in the years leading up to retirement can replace lower-earning years in your benefit calculation, resulting in higher payments.

Your Social Security benefit could get adjusted at full retirement age

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If you chose to receive reduced Social Security retirement benefits while continuing to work, your benefit might be adjusted at your FRA.

However, if you exceeded the allowable earnings limit and had some benefits withheld, Social Security will refigure your payment at FRA to credit you for any months you did not receive payments. This adjustment can lead to an increase in your monthly benefit.

You work for more than 35 years

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Social Security benefits are based on your highest 35 years of earnings. If you work for more than 35 years, your lowest-earning years will be dropped from the calculation, potentially increasing your average earnings and resulting in a higher monthly benefit.

Extending your career by just a few more years could make a significant difference in your benefits.

You claim spousal benefits

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If you are married, you may be eligible for spousal benefits based on your partner’s earnings record. If your spousal benefit is higher than your own, you can receive the higher amount after their passing.

This can be particularly beneficial if one spouse had significantly higher earnings than the other during their working years.

You’re eligible for survivor benefits

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Widows and widowers may be eligible for survivor benefits based on their deceased spouse’s earnings record.

If you’re eligible for both the survivor benefit and your own retirement benefit at the same time, Social Security will pay your own retirement benefit first. Then, if that amount is higher, they’ll top it up to match the survivor benefit.

This option provides additional financial support to surviving spouses, ensuring they receive the maximum possible benefit.

Bottom line

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Maximizing your Social Security benefits involves careful planning and consideration of various factors. By understanding and implementing these strategies, you can ensure your Social Security payments are as high as possible, helping you be ready for retirement.

Have you considered all the ways you can optimize your Social Security benefits to secure a comfortable future?

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Adam Palasciano

Adam Palasciano is a personal finance-obsessed and money-savvy individual who loves to hash out content on all things saving money. He specializes in writing millennial-friendly personal finance content, covering topics ranging from trending financial news, debt, credit cards, cryptocurrency, and more.