Make the Most of Your Social Security Benefits

Famous motivational speaker Zig Zigler reportedly said “If you want to earn more, learn more.” That’s true for careers and investments. It is also true for Social Security. The more you know about how Social Security benefits works, the more likely you’ll be able to maximize these benefits, says the article “Social Security tips: 10 ways to get more money in benefits” from USA Today.

  1. Check your Social Security work record for errors. Create an account for yourself at the “My Social Security” page on the Social Security Administration’s website. You’ll be able to see your entire income history. Check it against your tax returns to be sure that the numbers are right. If you see mistakes, call the SSA and have them fixed now.
  2. Work for at least 35 years. The SSA uses a formula to calculate benefits based on 35 years of earnings (adjusted for inflation). If you’re thinking about working for 28 years, your benefits are going to be lower. If you can keep working to reach the 35-year mark, you’ll increase your benefits.
  3. Boost your earnings. Bigger paychecks equal bigger benefits. If it’s too late for a career change, adding a part-time job could boost your lifetime income. You could also just work a few more years—it makes a difference. The annual statement from SSA on the website will show you just how much.
  4. Wait until age 70 to start collecting. For every year after your full retirement age, your benefits grow by about 8%. If you are able to tap other sources of income before you turn 70, you can maximize this benefit.
  5. You can also start collecting benefits at age 62. Your checks will be smaller, but if you have had a job loss and need the money, you are now eligible to take them. There will be many more checks now, than if you waited until age 70. If your health is poor, or your family history does not include longevity, there’s no benefit in waiting.
  6. Understand how spousal benefits work. For non-working spouses, Social Security allows a spouse to collect a benefit based on their spouse’s earnings record – up to one half (50%) of the spouse’s benefits.
  7. Can you delay a divorce? You might be able to collect benefits based on your former spouse’s earnings record, if you meet the requirements. You need to have been married for at least ten years. If it’s been nine years, and if your not-soon-enough ex has significantly higher earnings than you, consider delaying until the ten year mark. Not everyone can do this, but if you can, it could make a big difference.
  8. Keep your income lower, while collecting Social Security. If you plan on working while collecting benefits, understand that some of your benefit dollars will be withheld. For someone who is younger than their Full Retirement Age in 2020, for every $2 earned over $18,240, $1 dollar will be deducted. If you reach Full Retirement Age in 2020, the SSA will deduct $1 for every $3 you earn above $48,500, until the month you do reach full retirement age. Be mindful of the “cost” of your working on your benefits.
  9. Find out if you qualify for survivor or disability benefits. There are Social Security benefits for spouses, ex-spouses, the disabled and survivors. Other programs with benefits include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  If your spouse dies after working long enough to qualify for Social Security, the surviving spouse and children under age 17 may also be able to collect survivor benefits.
  10. Think strategically about Social Security. If your spouse has a stronger earnings history than you, they might delay collecting benefits to age 70 to maximize the size of their benefit checks. If they die before you, as a surviving spouse you may collect either their benefit amount or your own—whichever is larger.

Reference: USA Today (July 28, 2020) “Social Security tips: 10 ways to get more money in benefits”

What Happens to Social Security when Your Spouse Dies?

Planning When Divorced or Single AgainMary is right to be concerned. She is worried about what will happen with their Social Security checks, who she needs to notify at their bank, how to obtain death certificates and how complicated it will be for her to obtain widow’s benefits. Many answers are provided in the article “Social Security and You: What to do when a loved one dies” from Tuscon.com.

First, what happens to Social Security monthly benefits? Social Security benefits are always one month behind. The check you receive in March, for example, is the benefit payment for February.

Second, Social Security benefits are not prorated. If you took benefits at age 66 and then turned 66 on September 28, you would get a check for the whole month of September, even though you were only 66 for three days of the month.

If your spouse dies on January 28, you would not be due the proceeds of that January Social Security check, even though he or she was alive for 28 days of the month.

Therefore, when a spouse dies, the monies for that month might have to be returned. The computer-matching systems linking the government agencies and banks may make this unnecessary if the benefits are not issued. Or, if the benefits were issued, the Treasury Department may simply interrupt the payment and return it to the government, before it reaches a bank account.

There may be a twist, depending upon the date of the decedent’s passing. Let’s say that Henry dies on April 3. Because he lived throughout the entire month of March, that means the benefits for March are due, and that is paid in April. Once again, it depends upon the date and it is likely that even if the check is not issued or sent back, it will eventually be reissued. More on that later.

Obtaining death certificates is usually handled by the funeral director or the city, county or state bureaus of vital statistics. You will need more than one original death certificate for use with banks, investments, etc. The Social Security office may or may not need one, as they may receive proof of death from other sources, including the funeral home.

A claim for widow’s or widower’s benefits must be made in person. You can call the Social Security Administrator’s 800 number or contact your local Social Security office to make an appointment. What you need to do, will depend upon the kind of benefits you had received before your spouse died.

If you had only received a spousal benefit as a non-working spouse and you are over full retirement age, then you receive whatever your spouse was receiving at the time of his or her death. If you were getting your own retirement benefits, then you have to file for widow’s benefits. It’s not too complicated, but you’ll need a copy of your marriage certificate.

Widow’s benefits will begin effective on the month of your spouse’s death. If your spouse dies on June 28, then you will be due widow’s benefits for the entire month of June, even if you were only a widow for three days of the month. Following the example above, where the proceeds of a check were withdrawn, those proceeds will be sent to your account. Finally, no matter what type of claim you file, you will also receive a one-time $255 death benefit. If your spouse has recently passed, contact our experienced Hickory Hills, IL lawyers at 708-852-0733 for help.

Reference: Tuscon.com (March 13, 2019) “Social Security and You: What to do when a loved one dies”