retirement planning  |  april 7, 2022

3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Social Security Income

The amount of your benefits in retirement will depend on a few key factors.

 

Key Insights

  • Three key factors contribute to the amount of Social Security benefits you’ll receive.

  • These factors include your work history, the age when you start collecting your benefits, and how you coordinate your benefits with those of your spouse.

  • With careful planning, you can make the most of your Social Security retirement benefits.

Roger Young, CFP®

Senior Retirement Insights Manager

Social Security benefits are an important part of most retirement income plans. There are three key factors that contribute to the amount you’ll receive: your work history, the age when you start collecting your benefits, and how you coordinate your benefits with those of your spouse. The choices you make can affect your Social Security benefit amount. Remember that legislation can also influence Social Security, so it’s something to keep an eye on as you plan for retirement.

1: Your Work History

Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on your lifetime earnings, with only the top 35 inflation-adjusted earning years counting in the calculation. While there is only so much planning you can do around how much you earn, choosing to work a few extra years can help increase your benefit amount—particularly if you stepped away from the workforce temporarily and have a few zero-earning years among the 35 counted. “Working longer also has the benefit of delaying when you need to start paying for retirement, as well as giving you more time to save,” says Roger Young, CFP®, a senior retirement insights manager with T. Rowe Price. Log in to find your earnings history at ssa.gov.

2: The Age When You Begin Claiming Social Security Benefits

You can begin claiming Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. However, claiming before your full retirement age (FRA) will lead to a permanent reduction in your benefit amount. The longer you wait, the larger your benefit will be—until you reach age 70, at which point additional delays do not result in further increases.

Waiting has a positive impact on your benefit amount. For instance, if you were born in 1960, earned $100,000 each year, and claimed your benefits in 2022 at age 62, you could receive $20,496 per year. If instead you wait until your FRA (67) and continue to work, your benefits would increase to $31,092 per year—a 52% boost. If you wait until age 70, your benefits would be $39,288 per year, or 92% more than your “early” benefits. These increases are permanent.

The trade-off with any decision to delay is that you won’t receive benefits during those early years. “For many people, it makes sense to delay claiming,” says Young. “If you live a normal life expectancy, then the effective rate of return you get by waiting for a higher payment is reasonable. However, if you don’t expect to live long, or are single and not worried about outliving your funds, then it may be wise not to delay.”

Your Full Retirement Age

FRA varies depending on your birth year.

Full Retirement Age
Year of Birth   Full Retirement Age
1943–1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 and later 67

Source: ssa.gov.

3: Your Spouse’s Benefits

Survivor benefits are an often overlooked part of Social Security benefit planning. If you and your spouse both have earnings histories, you will need to decide when you each should file for your respective benefits. In general, the higher-earning spouse should delay taking benefits as long as possible, up to age 70. When one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse will receive the higher benefit for the rest of their life. “As a couple, there is a very good chance that one of the two of you will live a long enough time for the higher benefits to be worth the delay in claiming,” says Young. “If you are the higher-earning spouse, you should strongly consider delaying.”

By making informed decisions about Social Security, you can make the most of your retirement benefits. Those decisions, combined with appropriate planning, mean you can approach retirement with more confidence in your financial security.

The Real Benefits of Delaying Social Security

Each year you delay claiming your benefits translates into a permanent increase in your benefit amount.

Each year you delay claiming your benefits translates into a permanent increase in your benefit amount.

Social Security payments calculated using the Quick Calculator on the ssa.gov website. Assumes an individual who is age 62 in 2022 (with a full retirement age of 67 years) and is continuing to work and earn $100,000 each year until claiming benefits. All figures reflect current dollars. Actual benefits would be higher to reflect future adjustments for inflation.

Important Information

This material is provided for general and educational purposes only and not intended to provide legal, tax, or investment advice. This material does not provide recommendations concerning investments, investment strategies, or account types; it is not individualized to the needs of any specific investor and is not intended to suggest that any particular investment action is appropriate for you, nor is it intended to serve as the primary basis for investment decision-making. Any tax-related discussion contained in this material, including any attachments/links, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding any tax penalties or (ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to any other party any transaction or matter addressed herein. Please consult your independent legal counsel and/or tax professional regarding any legal or tax issues raised in this material.

Information contained herein is based upon sources we consider to be reliable; we do not, however, guarantee its accuracy. Actual future outcomes may differ materially from any estimates and forward-looking statements provided.

All investments involve risk, including possible loss of principal. All charts and tables are shown for illustrative purposes only.

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