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3 ways to boost your Social Security benefits

·Senior Producer/Reporter

Two-thirds of those receiving Social Security benefits rely on it for more than half of their income. The average monthly benefit is $1,294 – and many beneficiaries don’t know that some careful planning can increase the amount they get (for them or their spouses).
 
“The decision to claim your benefits will stick with you for the rest of your life and there are endless, complicated ‘quirks' about the Social Security program that stump the best of us,” says Jean Setzfand, VP of Financial Security at AARP.
 
What many Americans don’t realize is that some of these quirks can help you boost your benefits – even after you’ve started collecting. But you need to understand the nuances of the various strategies to make sure it’s the best option for you.
 
Here are three questions Setzfand is asked most often by people planning for their retirement.
 
Question #1: If I start collecting benefits, is there a way I can cancel that decision so it’s like I never claimed before?
 
If you’re suffering from claimer’s remorse, there is a way you can halt your benefits and actually increase your amount, says Setzfand. You are allowed to withdraw your application once during your life, within one year of receiving your first benefit.
 
But you’ll have to pay back the benefits you have already received. Once the Social Security Administration has received the amount, you can reset the clock as if you’ve never claimed.
 
The withdrawal strategy is best for individuals who may need a short-term carryover from an income standpoint. For example, those who have a temporary job loss and no other source of income can – at age 62 or older – draw on their Social Security benefits. If they find another job within a year, they can essentially stop the benefit and pay back everything claimed so far.
 
You can learn more by visiting www.ssa.gov and searching for the “Request for Withdrawal Application” where you will find Form SSA-521.
 
Question #2: After I hit my full retirement age, can I suspend benefits and earn delayed retirement credits?
 
If you have already claimed benefits, but you’ve failed to meet the one-year maximum to request a withdrawal, you can still choose to suspend benefits between your full retirement age (which is 65 or 66, depending on your birth year) and 70, says Setzfand.
 
Simply inform the SSA that you would like to stop receiving benefits for a certain period of time and your benefits will be increased for each month you do not collect during that period.
 
The suspension strategy makes most sense for individuals who have already claimed and realized that their benefit is inadequate and they also have access to another source of income.
 
You can suspend up until age 70. At that point, the money will start coming back to you. Here’s where you can learn more about the “file and suspend” strategy.

Question #3: Without withdrawing or suspending my benefits, is there any other way to increase my SS benefit?
 
The only way to do that is to continue working, which will let your earnings record grow and boost your benefits. Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on the 35 years in which you had your highest earnings – not your most recent years of earnings.
 
For those who have breakages in their career, or started working later in life, they have the potential to continue to work while claiming benefits, and those work credits will continue to add to your benefits.