A Simple Guide to Claiming and Maximizing Social Security Benefits

Over 64 million people received some form of Social Security benefits in October 2020. The majority received retirement benefits. Likely, many of these recipients did not know about some of the following tips for claiming and maximizing potential Social Security benefits.

Calculating When You Can File a Claim

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) uses a sliding scale to determine your full retirement age. People born in 1953 or earlier are already at their full retirement age. The age increases by two-month increments. Anyone born in 1960 or later is eligible for full retirement at age 67.

Retirement Age Matters

Most people are eligible to claim their Social Security benefits at age 62. However, doing so reduces your benefits by as much as 25% to 30%. On the other hand, you might want to delay your claim for retirement benefits until you reach age 70. Doing so increases your monthly benefit increases every year and includes annual cost-of-living adjustments.

Your beneficiaries might also benefit if you wait to collect your benefits. Since their benefits are based on yours, your higher payments mean a little more money for them, too.

Consider the Social Security Spousal Benefit

Marriage offers some advantages:

  • Couples can claim a spousal benefit that is worth up to 50% of their spouse’s benefit. However, the higher-earning spouse must apply first.
  • Spouses also can apply only for their spousal benefit. This tactic brings some money into the household while holding out for retirement age to increase their monthly Social Security benefits.

It’s important to consider all the angles when timing your spousal benefit claim.

Children’s Social Security Benefits

The SSA pays out benefits to the minor children of Social Security beneficiaries in some cases. Children are considered if they are:

  • Up to age 18 or
  • Age 19 if they are full-time high school students.

However, disabled adult children might receive some of their parent’s Social Security benefit if:

  • They were disabled before age 22.
  • Their disability prevents them from working.

The child’s benefit may continue even after the death of their parent.

Surviving Spouse and Children Benefits

While benefits are available, the rules are complicated:

  • Surviving spouses can choose to keep their own Social Security benefit or switch to their deceased spouse’s benefit.
  • Surviving spouses at full retirement age receive 100% of their spouse’s benefit.
  • Widows and widowers can claim reduced survivor benefits at age 60.
  • Widows and widowers that remarry before age 60 are not eligible for survivor benefits.
  • Remarrying after age 60 retains eligibility for benefits based on your deceased spouse’s work record.

Eligible surviving children can claim up to 75% of their parent’s Social Security benefits.

Claiming Benefits Based on an Ex-Spouse’s Earnings

Divorcees might apply for Social Security benefits based on their former spouse’s record based on the following criteria:

  • They were married at least ten years,
  • The claimant is age 62 or older and single.

The ex-spouse benefit is the same as the current spouse’s benefit – 50% of the recipient’s amount. These claims are confidential. The ex-spouse and his or her current spouse will not know you applied.

Changing Your Claim for Social Security Benefits

Sometimes we change our minds. Ordinarily, you might expect a government agency’s decisions to be set in concrete. However, SSA allows recipients to withdraw their application within the first 12 months after claiming your benefits. Doing this means that you will have to repay any benefits you received.

Remember that Social Security Benefits Are Usually Taxed

In fact, you might have to pay both federal and state taxes, depending on where you live. There is an income limit, however. For example, married couples who earn more than $32,000 per year might have to pay income taxes on up to 50% of their benefits.

The Social Security Earnings Test Effect

Some people claim their benefits early, then continue earning money. However, that extra income could reduce your benefits. According to the SSA, you generally forfeit $1 for every $2 you make over the earnings limit. The 2021 earnings limit is $18,960. The good news is that this earnings test does not affect your retirement after you reach full retirement age.

You Might Need Help with Social Security Benefits

Intergenerational caregivers might want to consider asking an elder law attorney for help before applying for benefits.

Attorney Robert Slutsky was one of the first lawyers in Pennsylvania to focus on elder law issues, including Medicaid. Since 1992, he has helped countless people find solutions that work for their individual situations.

Please give us a call at (610) 940-0650 or schedule a consultation on our website. We help clients throughout Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks, and Philadelphia Counties and beyond.

For a listing of skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities please check out our Chester County PA Elder Law Directory and Senior Guide online at:

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