Social Security is a complex system. It may provide economic security for those who need it, but the factors and numbers that affect your payout are often intricate and difficult to understand. Living on a limited income can be challenging. By getting the most out of Social Security, you are planning ahead for a more secure financial future. Here are the best ways to increase your Social Security payments.

35 Years of Work

Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, especially for those that must apply for disability. However, working for a full 35-year span is one of the easiest ways to increase your Social Security payments. The government bases the amount of money you receive through Social Security on your earnings - specifically, the 35 years where you made the most money. If you were late to enter the workforce or had large periods of unemployment, you’ll make less money at the end. Despite periods where you worked less or experienced unemployment, you can continue to work. Each year of increased earnings will override an earlier year of lower earnings. If health permits, this can be an easy way to increase payouts.

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Delay Your Benefits

Currently, the full retirement age is 66 years and a few months, or 67 years for those born after 1960. You may not know you don’t have to claim your benefits when you hit your full retirement age. If you delay claiming Social Security until you’re 70 years old, you can increase your benefits. For each year spent not claiming your benefits after your full retirement age, your Social Security earnings increase by about 8%, capping at age 70. That is a pretty significant jump in earnings.

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Earn More, but Not Too Much

Increasing your earnings during your years of employment will ensure higher Social Security payments. That being said, Social Security payments are taxable if you exceed certain amounts. If you have income from other sources or have multiple people claiming benefits in your household, the government can tax up to half of your Social Security earnings.

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Spousal Benefits

If you have been married for at least ten years, you can claim your spouse based on your income, as you normally would. The other option is to claim up to 50 percent of your partner’s earnings without affecting their payouts. If you were a stay-at-home parent or spouse, or if your partner had a significantly higher income, this might be a good option for you. You can make this claim only if the 50 percent is higher than what Social Security would pay you, based on your income.

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Ex-Spousal Benefits

You may be entitled to ex-spousal benefits if you divorced after at least ten years of marriage. Your benefits are based on your former partner’s earnings as long as you remain unmarried. However, if you remarry, you are no longer entitled to receive those benefits. If you qualify for this benefit, it doesn’t affect the amount your ex-partner receives.

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Children Matter

Raising a child can be expensive and doing so on a limited income is very difficult. When you retire, you may have a dependent in your household who is under the age of 19. If so, you qualify for additional social security payments for them, worth up to one-half of your full retirement benefit amount.

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Survivor's Benefits

If one partner in a marriage passes away, the surviving partner may be able to claim the deceased's benefits as their own. If the deceased individual received higher payouts than the surviving spouse, the latter can take over receiving those payments and forfeit their own. You can also consider this when planning out your benefits. You may choose to use other means to increase your personal Social Security benefits, so your family has more to rely on if you were to pass away.

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Know Current Laws

Unfortunately, Social Security benefits qualifications have changed in the past several years. Before 2015, one spouse could claim their benefits early while the other spouse waited until age 70 to claim the maximum amount. That is no longer allowed, and it’s important to not plan around information that might be outdated. You can keep up with changes by visiting the Social Security website.

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Follow Cost-of-Living Adjustments

The Social Security Administration will occasionally put out reports with information about increases in the upper limits of Social Security payouts. They may not always alert recipients to these changes, but these increases could result in more money for those claiming the benefits. To earn the highest amount possible, stay up-to-date on these posts by paying attention to the Social Security Administration reports.

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Speak to an Expert

Finally, you should always consider consulting with a professional. Speaking with a professional can ensure you have a solid plan and accurate information when the time comes to claim your benefits. They will also be able to go over possible regulation changes you can expect in the coming years.

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