For many consumers approaching retirement age, your Social Security benefits will be the cornerstone of your post-income income. Unfortunately, the Social Security Board of Trustees recently announced that starting in 2033, they may only be able to pay out about 75% of scheduled benefits.
This is bad news for those of us hoping to collect Social Security benefits for future retirement. But although we may not be able to change what the government does about Social Security benefits, we can still protect ourselves with knowledge.
Here are 10 of the most important things you should know about Social Security so that you can make sure your golden years are truly golden:
1. Age Is Everything
The age when start collecting your Social Security benefits will have a huge impact upon how much you’re ultimately able to claim.
You can start collecting when you’re 62, but if you wait until what’s called “full retirement age,” you’ll be able to get the full amount you’re entitled to. Collecting early, on the other hand, can get your benefits docked up to 25%.
Full retirement age is dependent upon the year in which you were born and you can find this information online at the Social Security website.
2. Know When You Made the Most
Ever wonder how your Social Security benefits are actually tallied up? Well, it’s based on the 35 years during which you were making the most money.
These years don’t have to consecutive, mind you, but you do have to work for a minimum of 10 years to even be eligible for benefits in the first place.
3. COLA Is Delicious
The cost of living adjustment (or COLA) is automatically factored in by the government.
COLA adjusts your Social Security benefits according to the rising cost of living brought about by economic factors like inflation.
4. Make Use of Marriage Benefits
As it turns out, a spouse can receive up to half of their spouse’s full Social Security benefit. This is great news if one of you has lower benefits.
Just remember that you can’t get the full 50% of your spouse’s benefit, however, if you start receiving claims before full retirement age.
5. Survivor Benefits Can Help
If you lose a spouse and claim survivor benefits after you’ve reached full retirement age, you get 100% of what your spouse was receiving at the time of death. You can start receiving this benefit at age 60, but obviously the benefit will be higher if you wait until full retirement age.
If you remarry before you reach 60, however, you can’t receive survivor benefit. In some cases, children can also get survivor benefit worth up to 75% of the deceased’s original benefit.
6. You Can Also Get Ex Benefits
After a divorce, you can still receive benefits from an ex-spouse without impacting their benefit or even alerting them in any way. You can receive up to 50% of the amount of an ex’s benefit if you claim after reaching full retirement age.
7. Delay Your Claim!
Once you’ve reached full retirement age, you can wait even further and build your benefit amount by 8% each year until you hit 70.
The cost of living adjustment is included in this, and you can pass the benefits onto your spouse if you should pass on first.
8. Suspend Your Claim Right Away
If you file when you reach full retirement age, then suspend your claim immediately, your spouse can still get a benefit based on your record.
This is a great solution should your spouse be faced with a low benefit. Another bonus is that you will be getting those delayed retirement credits, thereby growing your own benefit.
9. Know the Tax Situation
Social Security benefits lost their tax-free status back in 1984, so you might be getting taxed on your retirement income. It doesn’t take a lot for you to reach the point where you’ve got to pay a tax on your benefits, usually between 50% and 85%. Contact a financial advisor for more information.
10. Know the Earnings Test
Taking benefits while you still work can be a problem if you have a high income. The so-called “earnings test” basically says that for every $2 you make over the earnings limit, you forfeit $1 in benefits. This year, the earnings limit is $15,120.
But after full retirement age, the earnings test isn’t an issue anymore. In fact, if you start taking benefits earlier, the Social Security Administration will even adjust your benefits to make up for anything you lost due to the earnings test.
Share Your Tips!
Do you have any Social Security tips for us? Share in the comments below.
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