Social Security retirement benefits have kept millions of seniors out of poverty, and many workers look forward to the day they'll begin receiving checks every month from the Social Security Administration.
But while retirement benefits are very well-known and much-anticipated, they are not the only kind of payments older Americans could be eligible for. It's best to understand all the different kinds of checks you could potentially receive from the SSA so that you don't leave money on the table. Here are four possible types of payments that could help you make ends meet later in life.
1. Retirement benefits
Social Security retirement benefits are earned benefits. The amount you receive is based on your work history, with benefits calculated based on average (inflation-adjusted) wages during the 35 years when you made the most money over the course of your career.
Your benefit amount is also based on your age when you first claim benefits. You can start them as soon as 62 but must wait until your designated full retirement age (FRA) to receive your standard benefit. Full retirement age is between 66 and four months and 67 and is determined by your birth year. You also have the option to wait to start benefits beyond your FRA to earn delayed retirement credits that increase retirement income.
Retirement benefits are intended to replace around 40% of pre-retirement income, so they are not enough to live on by themselves but can be a big help in covering your costs once you no longer get a paycheck.
2. Survivor benefits
Survivor benefits are intended for the spouses of people who pass away. These benefits are available at a younger age than retirement benefits, especially if you're raising a minor child you had with the person who passed. Survivor benefits are not only available if you are married at the time your husband or wife passes but could also be available if you divorced after a marriage that lasted at least a decade. You are eligible for these benefits regardless of whether you ever worked, as they are based on your spouse's work history.
Survivor benefits can be especially valuable to seniors on a fixed income. If a higher-earning spouse passes first, these benefits are a lifeline as they enable the surviving spouse to keep receiving the larger of the two Social Security checks coming into the household before the death occurred.
3. Spousal benefits
Spousal benefits allow seniors to get retirement benefits based on their partner's work history. You can claim them as long as you are still married or you divorced after a marriage of at least a decade. They can be a great option for people who didn't work enough to qualify for their own benefits and those who earned less than their partner.
Spousal benefits equal up to 50% of the primary earner's benefit amount at their full retirement age. You can begin getting them as soon as you reach age 62, but they will shrink your benefit if you claim them before your full retirement age. Unlike your own retirement benefits, there is no advantage to delaying a claim beyond FRA as you don't increase the amount you get by doing so.
4. Supplemental Security Income
Finally, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are available to low-income seniors and disabled individuals. You can receive these benefits along with your Social Security retirement income. These are means-tested benefits, and you will reduce the amount you get if you earn too much.
By understanding each of these different kinds of benefits, you can make sure to maximize your monthly income from the Social Security Administration so that you have the money you need to enjoy your later years.