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3 Social Security Moves You Can Make While COVID-19 Has You Stuck at Home

By Maurie Backman - Mar 24, 2020 at 6:07AM

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Now's a good time to plan ahead -- and take steps to secure a higher monthly benefit.

With millions of Americans consumed by the COVID-19 crisis, it's easy to let something like Social Security fall by the wayside. But actually, now's a good time to read up on those benefits and make a few key moves that could raise your monthly income in retirement. Here are some important ones to focus on.

1. Figure out your full retirement age

Your full retirement age is the age you're allowed to start collecting your full monthly Social Security benefit based on your earnings history (specifically, your wages during your 35 highest-paid years in the workforce). That age depends on your year of birth, as follows:

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 or any year after

67

DATA SOURCE: SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION.

Now you are allowed to claim Social Security before reaching full retirement age -- you can do so as early as age 62 -- but for each month you file early, your benefits get reduced on a lifelong basis. File at 62 with a full retirement age of 67, and you're looking at shrinking your benefits by 30% permanently. That's why you must commit your full retirement age to memory -- and, if circumstances allow for it, consider waiting at least until then to file for benefits.

Loose stack of Social Security cards

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

2. Check your latest earnings statement

Each year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issues you an earnings statement summarizing your wages for the year. If you're 60 or older, that statement arrives in the mail. If you're younger than 60, you can create an account on the SSA's website and access it there.

Reviewing that statement is important, because if the SSA has incorrect wage information on you, it could result in a lower benefit during retirement. Imagine, for example, that your wages for a given year are listed at $42,000 because you changed jobs mid-year and your earnings from your second job never got recorded. If you really earned $87,000 that year, you don't want just $42,000 worth of income on record, because that number will get factored into your benefits calculation rather than the higher number you actually earned. By taking the time to review your earnings statements, you'll know whether you need to contact the SSA and attempt to correct the data it's collected on you.

3. Talk to your spouse about filing strategies

Maybe you're not ready to claim Social Security just yet, but that doesn't mean you can't take the time to discuss filing options with your spouse. If you and your spouse both held down jobs and are therefore each entitled to benefits based on your own respective work histories, you can play around with different scenarios that allow you to come out richer during retirement.

For example, you could decide to have the lower-earning spouse file for benefits first -- say, at full retirement age -- while the higher earner delays benefits past full retirement age. For each year you do up until age 70, those benefits increase by 8% on a permanent basis. Another option? Have one spouse file for benefits before full retirement age so you can kick-start retirement early, but have the other spouse wait to file so you're boosting one income stream. There are different filing choices you can look at, so if you're stuck at home during the crisis, take the time to work through some scenarios.

It may be tough to focus on Social Security at a time when the country is in crisis mode. But if you're stuck at home and need to take your mind off near-term events, why not take the opportunity to boost your Social Security knowledge? Doing so could result in some smart decisions that ultimately allow you to retire more comfortably.

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