Six Quick Ways to Maximize Your Social Security Benefits

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Innovative Strategies to Increase Your Social Security Benefits (Part 1 of 2)

This is the first of a two part series on quick ways to increase your Social Security benefits. If you are adverse to using complex planning scenarios or computer programs this series provides six quick strategies to increase your monthly Social Security benefits.  After seeing what works best, you may want to compare strategies or fine tune your approach by using a Social Security Calculator at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/AnypiaApplet.html

1.      Increase Your Social Security Benefits by Working 35-Years

Retirement Age is when you begin receiving Social Security benefits. Your Stop Work Age is the age you are when you leave the work force. Your retirement benefit is based on your highest 35-years of earnings and your age when you begin benefits. If you stop work before retirement age the Social Security Administration (SSA) will use zero (0) for each year without earnings when they calculate your benefits. Additionally, some of your 35-years may be low-earnings years, those low earning years will be averaged in, creating a lower benefit than if you had continued to work.

SOLUTION: If you have low earning or zero earning years in your earnings record, you may want to work before you retire to give your benefits an extra bump.

2.      Don’t Take Early Retirement

If your Full-Retirement Age (FRA) is 66 and you retire at 62 your benefits will be permanently reduced by 25 percent. Additionally, if you are forced to go back to work,  your benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn over $15,480 in 2014.

SOLUTION: Bite the bullet. There are many regional, state and federal programs that can assist you during your four-year FRA  “waiting” period. For example, the State of Illinois has a 32-page guide titled the, “State & Federal Programs for Older Americans 2013” located at http://www.state.il.us/aging/1news_pubs/publications/state-federal_book.pdf. This guide is designed to assist older Americans in need and includes sources of financial assistance for energy, tax relief, food, and health care.

3.      Collect Your Extra Credit Social Security Benefit Dollars for Military Service

According to the SSA under certain conditions special extra earnings credits are granted for periods of active duty or active duty for training. Special extra earnings credits are not granted for inactive duty training. For example, if  your active military service occurred:

  • From 1957 through 1967, the SSA will add the extra credits to your record when you apply for Social Security benefits.
  • From 1968 through 2001, you do not need to do anything to receive these extra credits. The credits were automatically added to your record.
  • After 2001, there are no special extra earnings credits for military service.

Note: According to the SSA in January 2002, Public Law 107-117, the Defense Appropriations Act, stopped the special extra earnings that have been credited to military service personnel. Military service in calendar year 2002 and future years no longer qualifies for these special extra earnings credits

SOLUTION:  The SSA provides the following guidelines for claiming extra credit for military service:

  • The information that follows applies only to active duty military service in 1957 through 1977,  you are credited with $300 in additional earnings for each calendar quarter in which you received active duty basic pay.
  • Active military service in 1978 through 2001 for every $300 in active duty basic pay, you are credited with an additional $100 in earnings up to a maximum of $1,200 per year. If you enlisted after September 7, 1980, and didn’t complete at least 24 months of active duty or your full tour, you may not be able to receive the additional earnings. Check with Social Security for details at www.ssa.gov.

About ksindell

Kathleen Sindell, Ph.D. is the author of numerous academic, popular, and professional finance articles, Web sites, proposals, and books. This includes the bestselling reference book, “Investing Online for Dummies, Eds 1-5” (listed for two consecutive years on the Wall Street Journal’s Bestselling Business Book List). Her most recent book “Social Security: Maximize your Benefits” has been listed in Amazon’s Top 100 Bestselling Retirement Planning Books. It is important to note that “Social Security: Maximize Your Benefits, 2nd Edition” was just released.

Sindell has an in-depth understanding of the financial services industry and has held Series 7, 63, and 65 licenses. Dr. Sindell is regularly tapped as a financial services expert on ABC World News, The Nightly Business Report, and at popular online and print outlets. Kathleen Sindell, Ph.D. is a member of the Board of Directors for the Financial Planning Association, National Capital Area (FPA NCA), is on the Editorial Advisory Panel of the Journal of Financial Planning, and is Co-Chair of the Metro Washington Financial Planning Day. Sindell is a Course Chair II, CFP Program Academic Officer, and adjunct full-professor at the University of Maryland, UMUC, School of Undergraduate Studies.

Contact Information: ksindell@kathleensindell.com or 703-299-1700

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