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3 Unexpected Ways to Get More From Your Social Security Benefits

By Katie Brockman – Oct 9, 2021 at 5:00AM

Key Points

  • Where you choose to live in retirement could affect your benefits.
  • By saving in a Roth IRA, you could earn larger Social Security checks.
  • In addition to retirement benefits, you might also be entitled to spousal, divorce, or survivors benefits.

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Get (and keep) as much as you are entitled to.

If you're like most Americans, Social Security benefits will likely make up a significant portion of your income in retirement. In fact, around 37% of men and 42% of women depend on their benefits for at least half of their retirement income, according to data from the Social Security Administration.

Regardless of how much you expect to rely on your monthly checks in retirement, it never hurts to take steps to boost your benefit amount.

While there are many ways to earn larger checks (such as working longer or increasing your income) and keep more of them, these three options are often overlooked. By taking advantage of any of these strategies, you could get more than you think from Social Security.

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Image source: Getty Images.

1. Move to a different state

While your Social Security benefits are subject to taxes, each state has its own laws and regulations surrounding Social Security tax.

Some states have no income tax at all, while other states exclude Social Security benefits from income taxes. In total, there are 37 states that don't tax Social Security benefits. The only 13 states that do tax benefits are Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia.

If you currently live in one of those states, you could keep more of your benefits by moving. That said, it's important to consider all the costs of moving to a different state before you pack your bags. While you might end up with larger Social Security checks, you could also face other expenses such as a higher cost of living, higher property taxes, or higher sales taxes.

2. Contribute to a Roth IRA

Regardless of where you live in retirement, your Social Security benefits are still subject to federal taxes. But you can reduce or potentially even eliminate these taxes by keeping more of your retirement savings in a Roth IRA.

How much of your benefits will be subject to federal taxes depends on your combined income, which is half of your annual Social Security benefit plus all other sources of income, such as retirement account withdrawals. If your combined income is higher than $25,000 per year (or $32,000 per year for married couples filing jointly), you'll owe federal taxes on at least a portion of your benefits.

Roth IRA withdrawals do not count toward your combined income, however. The more of your savings that are in a Roth IRA, the more you can reduce your combined income -- and potentially avoid paying federal taxes on your benefits altogether.

3. Take advantage of other types of benefits

Most workers are entitled to retirement benefits, but depending on your situation, you could be eligible to collect spousal, divorce, or survivors benefits as well.

Spousal benefits are available to those who are married to someone eligible for Social Security benefits. The most you can collect is 50% of the amount your spouse is entitled to at full retirement age. If you can receive more than that based on your own work record, you don't qualify for spousal benefits.

Divorce benefits are similar, except you cannot currently be married, and your previous marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years. If your ex-spouse has remarried, that will not affect how much you can receive in divorce benefits.

If a family member passes away, you could also be entitled to survivors benefits. These benefits are generally available to widows and widowers, but sometimes parents, children, ex-spouses, and other family members are also eligible. How much you can receive will depend on many factors, so it's best to contact the Social Security Administration to see if you qualify for survivors benefits.

Social Security benefits can make a significant impact on your quality of life in retirement, so it's smart to make the most of them. With a little creativity, you can boost your benefits and enjoy your senior years more comfortably.

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