How to Maximize Your Social Security Benefits

I don’t care who you are or how old you may be, you have thought about Social Security from time to time. It may be because you are wondering if there will even be such a thing when you retire. Perhaps you are approaching your retirement years and are wondering exactly what you will be getting every month once you start to draw upon it. Whatever the reason that Social Security has crossed your mind, the time for thinking about it isn’t when you are turning 66 or 67. Figuring out how to maximize your Social Security benefits starts long before that.

If you want to know how to maximize your Social Security benefits, start thinking about it now! Here are 12 ways to increase your benefits.

In fact, the time to think about your Social Security benefits is always now. Here’s why. There are a dozen factors that determine what you will get as your monthly payment when the day finally arrives for you to collect. Many of those items are things you do when you are young, middle aged, and then finally retired and each of those things will affect the amount you receive. Don’t believe me? Here are 12 ways you can increase you Social Security payouts when you retire by simply following these behaviors along the way starting right now!

How to Maximize Your Social Security Benefits

1. Work for 35 Years

Your benefits are based on 35 years of your work record and if you work less than 35 years, zeros are averaged into your numbers and will reduce your benefit.  If you are 21 when you begin working and work until age 67 (46 years) the top 35 years will be the ones that count. If you work until age 55 (34 years) you will have 34 years of work history and one “0” in your totals.

2. Earn More Money

Yes, the more you earn, the more your benefit will be. Improve your chances by adding a degree, taking courses, volunteering for more responsibility (and higher pay of course), getting raises and promotions. There is a maximum for the benefits but not many of us reach that level because over our lifetimes we don’t make the most of our money until closer to the end of our working career.

3. Work Until Your “Full Retirement Age” (FRA)

If you were born before 1955, that is age 66 and afterwards it gradually increases until 67. Who knows what it will be in the future as changes are being considered, but the bottom line is that if you retire before your FRA you will get less each month.  On the other hand, waiting until age 70 (the latest you can begin your benefits) will increase your benefit by 8% for every year you have waited. Consider your health, your income potential, and whether you think you will live long enough to see an advantage by waiting. The break-even point for drawing when first eligible at age 62 and waiting until age 70 to maximize it is about age 78.

4. Claim Spousal Payments

If you claim based on your spouse’s Social Security benefit you can get up to 50% of it and that may be higher than your own. Check to see which is higher.

5. Claim Based on Your Former Spouse

If you are divorced, but were married at least 10 years you can claim your benefit based on you ex-spouse’s benefit (50%) if it is higher than your own and it won’t have any effect on their claim. You must be unmarried to collect this benefit.

6. Change Your Claim at FRA

You can change your spousal claim after you reach full retirement at age 70. You can possibly draw a higher benefit because of your waiting to get the maximum at that age on your own benefit.

7. Increase Based on Dependent Child

If you have a dependent child under the age of 19 (or older and disabled) you may be able to increase your benefit within certain limits.

8. Claim Disability Benefits

If you become disabled at any age you can start collecting Social Security at that time. Disabled widows can collect 71½% from ages 50-59 and 75% if caring for a child 16 and under.

9. Claim Survivor’s Benefits

If you are a widow or widower age 60, you may collect about 71½% of the benefits on your spousal account and it increases with age up to 100% if you are full retirement age.

10. Plan Your Income

If you begin collecting your benefits prior to your FRA you may be penalized if you continue to earn money. Each year the allowed amount increases, but the penalty is $1 withheld for every $2 earned.

11. Plan Your Tax Burden

If your adjusted gross income is above a certain level, your Social Security may be federally taxed (up to 85% of it). The threshold for taxation changes every year. In some states, Social Security benefits are subject to income taxes as well.

12. Check Your Earnings Record

Check your earnings statement annually online at the Social Security Administration to make sure your records are accurate and your benefits are calculated properly.

The Social Security program represents a big part of your retirement plan and it’s up to you to maximize all of the details and do what you can to make sure it works to your advantage. Everyone has different requirements and “now” is always the best time to make sure you understand what you need to do to make it work best for you.

Do you understand your Social Security program and are you planning for maximization of your own personal needs? When was the last time you checked your earnings record online to insure its accuracy?


  1. Troy @ Market History

    Being an expat, I can’t access most of my social security benefits. Whereas healthcare is free in Canada, being in Australia I have to pay everything out of pocket (ontop of the insurance policies I’ve bought).

  2. I’m pretty sure I don’t have any social security benefits. My short work history was as a teacher. But I do need to try to learn more about the few benefits I have from that. Good info. I tend to ignore social security, because I find it hard to believe that there will be any money for us Gen Xers.

    1. Jamie, I’m hopeful that Social Security will be around in some form for a long, long time. With so many people depending on it as a big part of their retirement plan, I don’t see it failing in the foreseeable future. When it comes to your Social Security, at some point you may qualify for spousal benefits, so it would still be a good idea to stay aware of how that might affect you. Thanks for your comments.

  3. Fruclassity (Ruth)

    We don’t have Social Security in Canada, but we have something similar: The Canada Pension Plan (CPP). My husband and I are planning to wait until we’re 70 to collect our CPP. Some people take it as early as 60, but the difference in the amount received after waiting until 70 is huge. It’s always a bit of a risk to wait, but we’re planning to be well enough set up that we can take that risk.

    1. Waiting is a good option for many people. My personal decision was really forced because of my health issues. And that’s the problem for a lot of people that just don’t feel that waiting can work for them if they cannot continue their employment. It’s a decision that needs some thought, but you’re right it does pay to wait.

  4. Waiting until age 70 is huge. That 8%/year gain isn’t like an 8% gain on your investments – it’s an 8% gain that pays over and over every year! So a 24% gain in annual SS income for waiting another three years (for me) past FRA… justifies serious consideration. I had two grandmothers live to be over 100. The men haven’t lasted as long, but still… decent chances I’ll make it to the breakeven age. Just need to make sure my money doesn’t run out before then. 🙂

  5. Great article. My husband and I are hoping to wait as long as possible to collect Social Security payments upon retirement. You have me thinking about any errors in calculating our payments due. I will definitely go on line to check.

  6. “If you begin collecting your benefits prior to your FRA you may be penalized if you continue to earn money.”

    Is that any kind of income, or only W-2 income? I’m expecting that we’ll always rely on some dividend income if I invest wisely and sufficiently but never considered that it would reduce our benefits.

    I haven’t paid much attention to the social security rules because I assumed it couldn’t be part of our financial plan, but we’ll see when we get closer to that time. I’m regularly reminded that while 70 sounds really far off, I’m already halfway there and my health definitely won’t hold out that long. Hence the dividend income.

    1. If you’re drawing your full Social Security before your FRA, your “earned income” (W-2 income) is what is taxable. Each year, the amount allowed that’s untaxed increases, so it’s hard to say what that amount will be when you are at that point in your life. Your dividend income is a safe vehicle to draw upon. Thanks for your question, Revanche.

    1. The payment made to your disabled adult child is made through Social Security to them, and it is based on the parents’ earning record. It is separate from SSI (so you’ll need to find out which offers a higher benefit) and it applies to children who are disabled before the age of 22 and are unmarried. Payments can be received when the parent is deceased or begins receiving retirement or disability benefits.

  7. Ann

    That was a very helpful and timely article. I didn’t know that about how zeros are factored into the 35 year work history. I’ll need to pull my latest statement and see how many years I worked prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom so I could raise my daughters (both whom have special needs). Thank you for always writing such informative posts!

    1. Thanks, Vickie, for your comment. Retirement has a way of sneaking up on all of us, so it’s good to keep on top of your Social Security benefits. By the way, when it’s time to actually apply, you can now do all of that online at the Social Security website. It’s really easy and convenient.

  8. Jax

    I can’t imagine our politicians completely gutting a very popular safety net (that the tax payers have been paying into!) but at the same time I am planning on it not being around when I am 70 (I’m 31 right now.) If it’s still around it will be a nice bonus!

    I do keep track of my estimate benefits and right now it looks like I will bring home more in SS than I currently do with my paycheck, so that is something.

    I didn’t know about how 0s factored in. There were a couple years in college when I didn’t work, even though I worked when I was in high school. It’s good to know how to avoid having those 0s count!

    1. Have a little faith, Jax, that Social Security will survive in some form and that you will be able to count on a benefit. A lot of people are unaware of the zeros that are factored in, but since most people work for at least 40 years, having 35 count doesn’t really affect the majority of workers.

  9. Beth @ The Money Pixie

    These are some great tips here. I used to worry about social security as I work for myself but not anymore. Even though I’m pretty sure it will still be around when I retire, the good news is I won’t need it. Honestly, that’s where you want to get yourself and your personal finances if at all possible.

    1. Beth, that’s a great goal to have. Social Security was never intended to be the primary source of one’s retirement plan. Unfortunately, for two thirds of people who retire today, it’s half their retirement income. It’s great to hear that you have a plan that will support your retirement, even without Social Security.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Want to save even more?

Join our community today to get our weekly emails including blog posts, updates, saving tips, and more.