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3 Unexpected Ways to Claim More in Social Security

By Maurie Backman – Dec 23, 2021 at 5:02AM

Key Points

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You don't want to miss out on these opportunities.

Even if you manage to amass a tidy sum in your retirement nest egg, you may still come to rely on Social Security to cover a significant portion of your budget once your career wraps up. That's especially likely if your golden-years game plan includes expenses such as extensive travel.

Now, you may already know some of the basic tricks for boosting the size of your monthly Social Security benefit. One commonly used tactic is to delay your filing past your full retirement age. For each year beyond it that you hold off -- up until age 70 -- your monthly benefit will get an 8% boost. Or, on the flip side, simply holding off until you hit your full retirement age -- between 66 and 67 for today's workers -- will be a serious help, as it will spare you the benefit cuts of 5% to 6.7% a year that claiming early would incur. Claim as soon as you're eligible -- when you turn 62 -- and it'll shrink your checks by a whopping 30%.

Delaying Social Security until you're 70 may not be feasible for you. Fortunately, even if it is, there are other steps you can take to increase the size of your monthly benefits. Here are a few worth exploring.

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Image source: Getty Images.

1. Work for more than 35 years

The Social Security benefit you're entitled to during retirement will be based on your average wages from your 35 highest-paid years of work, adjusted for inflation. So how might working for more than 35 years garner you a higher benefit?

It's simple. Most people's real incomes grow as they put in more time in the workforce. If you already have 35 years or more of work under your belt, but you're earning a lot more now than you did early in your career, then it could pay to stick with your job a bit longer. By doing so, you'll push some years when you were earning less out of the calculation, replacing them with years that lift your average -- and your monthly benefit.

2. Secure a side income

It's not just earnings from your main job that count in the calculation of your Social Security benefit. If you secure a side gig -- and properly report what you earn from it to the IRS -- that income will be factored into your benefits calculation as well. Plus, having a second job could make it easier to pad your retirement investment portfolio and build a solid nest egg to supplement the benefits you collect.

3. Upgrade your regular benefit to a spousal benefit

Even if you earned enough during your career to qualify for Social Security on your own, if your earnings weren't that strong, your benefit may not be very high. However, you may not have to settle for that. If you're married to someone who's eligible for Social Security, or were married for at least 10 years to someone who is, you may be entitled to spousal benefits based on their earnings.

Your spousal benefit will amount to 50% of what your current or former spouse collects. If you're married, you can't collect spousal benefits until your spouse files for Social Security.

Let's say your spouse is younger than you, so you file for Social Security first and are given a monthly benefit of $1,250. If your spouse was a significantly higher earner than you and is eligible for a monthly benefit of $2,800, once they claim Social Security, you can bump up your monthly payments to $1,400.

Get more out of Social Security

Regardless of what your nest egg looks like in retirement, you'll probably want to get the most you can out of Social Security. These moves could be your ticket to snagging a higher benefit -- and enjoying the freedom that comes with it.

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