Social Security supports tens of millions of Americans, providing essential benefits to help them make ends meet in retirement or if they become disabled. For many of those recipients, Social Security makes up most or all of their income.
One of the biggest advantages of Social Security is that it makes adjustments every year. In particular, four changes are taking effect for Social Security in 2020, and knowing the facts about those changes and what they mean for typical recipients will help you take maximum advantage of the Social Security program.
1. 2020's cost-of-living adjustment: 1.6%
Annually, Social Security gives those receiving benefits a cost-of-living increase in the size of their monthly checks. The amount varies from year to year based on inflation figures, and the Social Security Administration just said it would boost benefit checks by 1.6% starting at the beginning of 2020.
The 1.6% rise will affect recipients in different ways. The typical retired worker will see monthly benefits rise from $1,479 to $1,503. For couples receiving two benefit checks, the typical total will rise by $40 to $2,531 per month.
Even if you're getting benefits based on a family member's work history, you'll also see increases. Widowed parents with two children will get $46 more per month, coming in at $2,934. Surviving spouses without eligible children will get a $22 per month bump to $1,422, while the typical disabled worker will see checks rise $20 to $1,258 per month.
2. Early retirees in 2020 will have a higher full retirement age
Social Security calculates your benefits using a formula that assumes that you'll take Social Security when you reach full retirement age. If you claim earlier, then you'll receive smaller checks than you'd get if you waited. However, for those turning 62 in 2020, full retirement age will be slightly higher than it was for those turning 62 in 2019.
Those born in 1958 will have a full retirement age of 66 and eight months. That's two months older than it was for those who were born in 1957 and hit age 62 in 2019. As a result, 2020's 62-year-olds will take a 28.33% reduction in their monthly payment compared to what they'd get at full retirement age. That's a bit more than the 27.5% reduction that applied to 2019's 62-year-olds.
3. High earners can expect a bigger maximum benefit from Social Security
If you retire in 2020 and qualify for the maximum benefit, you'll get a bigger check than those who retired in 2019 got. If you work to full retirement age before collecting benefits, then your maximum amount for Social Security benefits will be $3,011, up $150 from year-ago levels.
Not all of the gains will be that big, though, as getting the maximum depends a lot on exactly when you choose to retire and take benefits. For those claiming Social Security at 62, the maximum monthly benefit will go up $56 to $2,265. Those retiring at 65 will get a $100 bump up to $2,857 per month. Yet for those retiring at age 70, the increase will be small, rising just $20 to $3,790 per month. Even if you fall short of the absolute maximum, those earning higher incomes can generally expect to see a boost to what they'll receive.
4. High-income workers can expect to pay more in Social Security taxes
Payroll taxes are the primary source of revenue for Social Security, and the maximum Social Security payroll tax is heading higher. In 2020, $4,800 more in earnings will be subject to payroll tax, maxing out at $137,700. Between the 6.2% employee portion and the matching 6.2% employers have to pay, a total of 12.4% of your earnings goes to the federal government.
Those earning more than $137,700 will see withholding rise by $297.60 over the course of the year. For self-employed workers, maximum taxes will rise by double that amount, or $595.20. Yet most workers won't see any change at all, because typical Americans earn far less than $137,700, and the same 6.2% rate will continue to apply on total earnings below that amount.
Know what's coming with Social Security
To get as much as you can from Social Security, it's vital to understand how each year's changes will affect you. Between benefit checks, retirement age, maximum benefit calculations, and Social Security payroll taxes, there's plenty for people to keep track of with their Social Security in 2020.