5 ways to boost your social security payments

Try these strategies to significantly increase your Social Security benefit.

by. Emily Brandon

One of the most important retirement decisions you will make is when to sign up for Social Security. The age you first claim benefits can have a dramatic impact on the size of your monthly payments in retirement. Here are five great ways to make the most of your Social Security benefit:

Work for at least 35 years. Social Security payments are calculated using the 35 years of your career when you earned the most. Those who haven’t worked for 35 years have zeros averaged into the calculation, which could significantly lower the monthly benefit. “If you are still working, the way to increase your benefit is to continue working and earning more,” says Jim Blankenship, a certified financial planner for Blankenship Financial Planning in New Berlin, Ill., and author of “A Social Security Owner’s Manual.” “Any time you can eliminate low-earning years or zero years and replace those earlier years with something that is an improvement over them, then you can improve your situation.”

Aim to work until your full retirement age. While you can begin receiving benefits as early as age 62, benefit payouts are significantly reduced if you sign up then. Most baby boomers are first eligible for unreduced Social Security benefits beginning at age 66. And for everyone born in 1960 or later, the full retirement age is 67. “Be patient, because there is a big payoff for waiting for your benefits,” says Laurence Kotlikoff, a professor of economics at Boston University and a co-developer of the retirement planning software ESPlanner. Age 66 is also the first year you can work and collect benefits at the same time without having your Social Security benefit temporarily withheld if you earn too much.

Consider delaying claiming until age 70. You can further boost your monthly Social Security payments by continuing to delay claiming. After your full retirement age, payments increase by about 8 percent for each additional year of delay up until age 70. “The rule of thumb is if you are single, and you believe you are going to live past the age of 80, typically it is best for people to delay as late as possible to the age of 70,” says William Meyer, founder and managing principal of Social Security Solutions, a company that analyzes Social Security claiming strategies. “If you live past 80, by delaying you are going to get more. The best investment deal out there right now is to get 8 percent guaranteed.” After age 70, there is no additional benefit to delaying signing up for benefits.

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