4 Social Security Strategies to Increase Benefits

If you qualify, these Social Security strategies may increase your benefits

Are there Social Security strategies you can use to get more out of your Social Security benefits? Yes, but each only works in certain circumstances. For example, many of the strategies require you to have reached a certain age, have a date of birth that falls before a cut-off date, or be in good health.

In addition to reading about the strategies, consider trying a Social Security calculator that will show you the amount of money you might receive by using one strategy versus another.

For a Non-Working Spouse

Spouse looking at a Social Security statement.
Many non-working spouses are surprised to discover they will receive a spousal benefit. GlobalStock/E+/GettyImages

Benefit: Spousal benefits are pretty simple. They allow your spouse to collect a benefit based on your earnings record - even if they never worked. Spousal benefits are available for ex-spouses too, as long as you were married at least ten years. Spousal benefits offer added income for one-earner couples.

Works if: You have enough years of work in the Social Security system to qualify for your own benefits, and, if married, have filed for those benefits. If divorced, your ex can claim a spousal benefit even if you have not filed for your own benefits.

Collect A Spousal Benefit Now, Your Own Benefit Later

Man looking at his Social Security application.
Some couples can use the collect now collect more later strategy to increase benefits. Jim McGuire/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Benefit: This strategy is often referred to as "file and suspend" or "collect now/collect more later". It is often combined with the use of a restricted application. It allows a spouse to collect on your earnings record while your benefits continue to accumulate, or allows you to collect on their spousal benefit while your own benefits accumulate. New Social Security rules will eliminate the file and suspend option after 4/30/16 and will eliminate the restricted application option for those born 1/2/1954 or later.

Works if: You and your spouse have reached full retirement age.

Increase Benefits By Working 35 Years

Man working in his business.
Working longer may increase your Social Security benefits. MichaelBlann/DigitalVision/GettyImages

Benefit: Social Security uses your highest thirty-five years of work history to calculate your average indexed monthly earnings. This is used to determine your Social Security retirement benefit. Make sure you have a full 35 years of work history to maximize your benefits.

Works if: You have less than 35 years of work history, or you have many low earning years listed in your 35 years, you are now earning more, and you can keep working so that some of your higher earning years will bump some of your lower earnings year off the top 35.

Get Delayed Retirement Credits

Couple looking at their credit card spending and Social Security income.
Delayed retirement credits are almost like having an increased limit on your credit card. LWA / Dann Tardiff / Getty Images

Benefit: Increase your Social Security retirement benefits by 25% or more by waiting until age 70 to begin benefits - even if you stop working before then. This allows your benefit to accumulate delayed retirement credits. If you have health issues and think you may not live past 80 or so then this may not be a good strategy.

Works if: You use this in combination with other strategies listed above and have a normal life expectancy. Is particularly attractive in a low interest rate environment.