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Preparing for retirement: Here are 4 Social Security secrets for even bigger checks

Maximizing your Social Security benefits can go a long way toward making your retirement years more secure. After all, these benefits will last for the whole of your life, so you won’t have to worry about them running dry as you reach your later years. But how can you get the largest Social Security checks possible? Just follow these four tips – some of which you’ll need to put into practice early in your life in order to make them as effective as possible.

1. Claim your benefits as late as possible

Retirees who wait to claim Social Security benefits are rewarded with larger monthly checks. See, everyone has a full retirement age (FRA), which is determined under the law based on their birth year. It’s between 66 and 2 months and 67. Retiring prior to your FRA will result in a reduction of the size of your monthly check due to early filing penalties.

2. Work for at least 35 years (or longer)

Every retiree’s Social Security benefits are calculated using a formula that takes their highest 35 years of (inflation-adjusted) earnings into account. Retirees who work less than 35 years will see some years of $0 wages included in their formula, which reduces the size of their checks. To maximize your checks, make sure you put 35 years in.

3. Maximize your income

Since your benefits are based on your earnings, increasing your income will result in higher monthly checks. Aim to do this by improving your skills so you can advance in your career and by advocating for yourself during performance reviews or interviews, negotiating the highest salary possible.

4. Invest in a Roth retirement account

Around half of all retirees are subject to tax on Social Security – and a growing number of retirees will owe federal taxes on their benefits in the future. That’s because there’s an income threshold at which benefits become taxable, but that threshold isn’t indexed to inflation. As a result, more people will be above it each year.