After decades of hard work, the stress of raising a family, and the ups and downs of a career, it is no wonder why people are excited for their retirement years. 

Unfortunately, after years of watching your spending, cutting costs, and trying your best to contribute to retirement plans, it is still easy for many people to be overwhelmed by the challenge of planning for this next phase of their life. In fact, If you are feeling this way, you are not alone; 49 percent of adults are concerned that they will outlive their savings. 

Fortunately, this is where sound planning and a heavy dose of preparation can help you maximize your traditional retirement savings and the Social Security benefits you are entitled to. 

Don’t know where to start? Whether you are looking to kick-start your retirement or it needs an extra jolt of energy in these challenging economic times, here are four wise ways to maximize your future Social Security benefits.

1. Understand Social Security Benefits Age Milestones

Under the current Social Security system, there are key age milestones you need to keep in mind as you plan your savings goals and make plans for the future. 

Most notably, you can opt to begin to receive benefits at any time once you reach the age of 62. At age 70, you automatically begin receiving benefits if you decide to wait. If you do choose to wait, there are incentives: For each year you delay taking Social Security after age 62 until age 70, your benefit increases by 8 percent each year. This incentive phases out after age 70 by law.

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2. Maximize Your Earnings

The Social Security Administration calculates your Social Security benefit based on the 35 years during which you earned the most yearly income, no matter when they occured. If you worked more than 35 years, then the years with lower earnings are not included in the calculation that determines your ultimate benefit amount.

This means, if you are able and are earning more now than you were at any other point in the last 35 years, you might consider working longer. At the same time, it may be wise to identify ways to earn incomes from a side business or job or even ask for a raise at work. All of these techniques can ultimately increase the amounts used in your calculations. (Note: The maximum yearly income considered is $142,800; any more than that will not influence the average.)

Equally important—especially for those who took time off work for personal or family reasons—the Social Security system will enter a zero for each year with no individual income. If you did not get a chance to work for at least 35 years, the Social Security program will then enter a zero into your benefit calculation, decreasing your payout.

Again, if you are able, consider adding another year’s worth of work to reduce the number of zeros that could be weighing down your benefit payout.

3. Utilize Spousal Benefits

Spouses may claim Social Security benefits based on their own work history, or they can choose to claim up to 50 percent of the higher earner’s benefit—whichever is higher. When combined, both incomes could be a nice supplement to your traditional retirement savings. Just note that you need to have been married for at least 10 years and, depending on your situation, you can still be entitled to a benefit even if you are divorced.

4. Watch Your Taxable Income

As with many aspects of retirement planning, there are some fine lines that you need to be aware of. For example, if you continue to work or get spousal benefits, make sure to watch the total of your year-to-date adjusted gross income. 

According to the Social Security Administration, if all of your income and half of your Social Security benefit is more than $25,000 for individuals and $32,000 for couples, as much as 50 percent of your Social Security benefit could end up being taxable at tax time. If you earn even more—$34,000 for individuals or $44,000 for couples—an income tax of as much as 85 percent of your Social Security benefit could be due.

Take the Next Step

No matter where you are in your retirement journey, you do not have to confront these complex and challenging decisions on your own. We have the tools to get your family’s retirement plan on solid footing, help you maximize their Social Security benefits, and ensure you can truly enjoy the moments that matter in your retirement years, too.

We welcome you to download our free resource 10 Things a Smart Investor Should Consider in an Economic Downturn to learn more financial planning tips. Additionally, you can always contact us here to speak with a member of the Harvest Wealth Group team.

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