3 Little-Known Ways You Can Boost Your Social Security Benefits by Hundreds of Dollars per Month

Social Security is an essential part of retirement budgeting for many American seniors. Nearly 9 out of every 10 retirees said they rely on Social Security at least in part to make ends meet, according to an annual poll from Gallup. As such, it’s important to make the most of your retirement benefits.

Many people know they can earn a higher monthly benefit check by waiting as long as possible to apply for Social Security. But you may need to get more creative if you’ve already applied. What’s more, the Social Security program offers workers in their 60s a great opportunity to boost their benefits.

Here are three little-known ways you can increase your monthly Social Security check, sometimes by hundreds of dollars per month.

A Social Security card sandwiched between $100 bills.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Hit the undo button

As mentioned, delaying your Social Security benefits is the simplest way to increase your monthly benefit. For each month you delay beyond your age of eligibility, you’ll see a small bump in your monthly payment. That pay bump increases for the three years leading up to your full retirement age, and it increases even faster if you delay beyond full retirement age.

If you applied for Social Security early and now realize you don’t need it as much or would rather delay your benefits, you still have options. There are two very important rules you need to know.

First, if it’s been less than one year since you applied for Social Security benefits, you may be able to withdraw your application. That requires you to fill out a form and return all the benefits you received to the Social Security Administration. That includes any Medicare payments deducted from your checks.

Successfully withdrawing your applications makes it as if you never claimed Social Security in the first place. You’ll be able to earn a bigger check by delaying benefits.

If you applied more than a year ago, you still have an opportunity to earn a bigger check. If you’ve reached full retirement age, you can suspend your benefits. When you suspend your benefits you don’t have to pay back any of the money you’ve received from the program. You’ll start accruing delayed retirement credits the month after you suspend, which provides a boost of 2/3 of a percentage point to your check each month. Once you reach age 70, your benefits will automatically resume if you haven’t applied to resume them already.

2. Apply for survivor benefits

Survivor benefits can provide a substantial boost to your monthly Social Security check, but many recipients will need to apply for those benefits.

Anyone who’s receiving a spousal benefit while their spouse is alive should automatically start receiving their higher survivor benefit after they’re gone. While the spousal benefit is limited to half of what the high-earning spouse is eligible to receive at full retirement age, the survivor benefit can equal up to 100% of the amount the deceased spouse was receiving before passing away. That includes any delayed retirement credits earned from them delaying benefits beyond their full retirement age.

But only a small number of Social Security applicants file for spousal benefits. That’s because they can usually qualify for a higher benefit on their own record, and more families are earning dual incomes. In 2022, just 2.1 million people collected a spousal benefit versus 48.6 million retirees collecting a benefit on their own record. The number of spousal beneficiaries peaked in 1980 with 3.5 million when just 19.6 million workers collected Social Security on their own record.

That’s important because if you’re receiving Social Security benefits on your own record, you need to apply for survivor benefits to receive them. That can provide a significant boost to your monthly check, which may be sorely needed.

3. Keep working in your 60s

Some important details in how your Social Security benefits are calculated can make it advantageous to work well into your 60s if you’re able.

When the Social Security Administration calculates your primary insurance amount — the amount you’ll receive if you apply for benefits at full retirement age — it adjusts all your past earnings for inflation. It then takes your 35 highest earning years to calculate your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME).

Importantly, though, any earnings from the years you turn 60 through retirement don’t get adjusted. That means if you can increase your earnings faster than inflation, you’ll likely see an increase in your AIME. What’s more, you’ll very likely have several years of low or no income you could replace with higher income in your 60s.

This can even work to your advantage if you already claimed Social Security. The Social Security Administration will recalculate your AIME every year and increase your benefits if it goes up. That said, workers who have yet to reach full retirement age will be subject to the Social Security Earnings Test, which could result in the SSA withholding some of your benefits check.

Again, that could be a good thing for those who regret claiming benefits early, as any amount withheld from your benefits check is prorated as if you delayed claiming benefits, resulting in a double boost to your benefits check once you reach full retirement age. And if you want, you could then suspend your benefit until age 70 for an even bigger boost.

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