Different Ways to Maximizing Social Security Benefits

Optimizing your Social Security benefits isn’t easy, especially since there are hundreds of rules governing payments alone. But since most retired Americans depend mostly on Social Security, it is vital that you get everything you’re entitled to.

Let’s look at a number of the more common issues, concerns and life scenarios that could have a direct impact on an individual’s Social Security income. This is by no means an exhaustive record of related matters but intended to formulating a Social Security game plan which makes sense for you, as a great starting point.

Also, it’s worth taking a second before trying to ascertain how it best fits into your life, to understand Social Security in its historical context. Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Program, OASDI, is the official name for Social Security in the U.S. The OASDI is a comprehensive federal benefits program that provides benefits to their survivors, disabled people, and retirees. This was and remains the OASDI mission.

Get in all 35 years

The formula that the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses to determine your monthly benefits is based on your 35 highest-earning (and inflation-adjusted) years. In the event that you don’t have at least 35 years with earnings, then zeros will be inserted for however many years you are short.

That may make a major difference. Consider someone who made an average of $50,000 per year while working, but only has 28 years with gains on record. As the SSA will comprise seven years of $0 earnings, the “average” gains will drop all the way down to $40,000 per year.

Obviously, in the event you’re about to retire, it might be too late for you to take action on this. But if you can do so, consider delaying retiring by another year or more, or even getting a part-time job for a while can help boost your typical earnings and provide a bigger benefit check come retirement time.

Benefits for kids under age 18

Most people know that a surviving spouse gets a widow or survivor benefit of up to 100% of their deceased partner’s remaining benefit due. Nevertheless, less commonly known is the very fact that unmarried children under the age of 18 are also eligible for survivor benefits. The youngster calculation, again subject to particular rules, is normally 75%. Be constantly aware that there is a maximum limit for every family that typically ranges from 150% to 180% of the basic benefit rate.

Furthermore, for those who had children later in life, after they are qualified for retirement benefits, any of their kids who are single and under age 18, can also receive retirement benefits. The benefit is up to 50% of the retirement benefit amount, along with the same family maximum sum above employs.


Often the greatest source of confusion as it relates to Social Security is the aftermath of divorce. In surveys we’ve run at BMO Private Bank, less than half of participants are aware of their rights as a divorced spouse.

A divorced partner is qualified for the same benefits as a current spouse, to put it simply, subject to three fundamental rules. The rules are as follows:

  • The marriage lasted for at least 10 years
  • You haven’t remarried
  • You are age 62 or older

Subject to these conditions a divorced partner can get up to 50% of their former spouse’s benefit.
If they have their own work record, they could also confine their claim to just the divorced spouse benefit and gather delayed retirement benefits which they could switch to at a later date (not past age 70) to maximize their entire benefits.


Surviving partner benefits depend on two things: When the deceased spouse originally claimed their benefit and the age at which the widow/er claims the benefit.

The easiest example is where they were both at Full Retirement Age (FRA) – today, 66. At this time, the surviving partner is eligible to receive 100% of the deceased spouse’s retirement benefit, assuming that is higher than their own.

The more complicated example is when both are taken early. There’s an automatic floor of the higher of the deceased partner’s benefit or 82.5% of the PIA (Primary Insurance Amount – the complete monthly Social Security retirement benefit to which you become entitled at FRA). This would get further reduced in the event the surviving spouse takes early benefit (as early as age 60).

For instance, Joe files early at age 62 and simply receives 75% of his $2,000 benefit or $1, 500. Julie is the remaining partner and she would get the higher of $1,500 or $1,650 (82.5% of $2000), in this event, $1,650. However, if she is younger and promises at age 60, she’d just get 71.5% of $1,650, or $1,180. The survivor benefit could have been substantially higher if Joe had waited until at least FRA, by waiting past FRA up to age 70 and he could have even received delayed retirement credits of 8% a year.

For divorced spouses, they are able to receive exactly the same survivor benefits as a spouse, as long as the union lasted at least 10 years.

See more: How Much in Social Security Disability Benefits Can You Get?

Don’t Claim Social Security Benefits Early If You’re Still Working

It is better not to maintain early if you don’t desire Social Security benefits to cover your expenses while you are still working. You won’t be entitled to as much as you would have received had you waited to assert at full retirement age in the event you do. Additionally, a portion of your own monthly benefit will probably be withheld on gains over $15,720. When you reach full retirement age (age 66 or 67 depending on when you were born), your monthly benefits are adjusted upward to account for the money that was withheld while you were working.