5 Secrets About Your Social Security Benefits, According to Financial Experts
These tips can help ensure you're getting the most out of the program.
As with buying a home or preparing to retire, getting to the point in your life when you begin to collect Social Security benefits can result in a lot of learning as you go along. But while it can be complicated to learn on the fly, there's no denying that it's a widely used and vital service. In 2022, 66 million Americans received monthly benefits, including 9 out of 10 people over the age of 65, according to data from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Fortunately, even a little insight into the program's lesser-known elements can give you a leg up on ensuring you're getting your fair share. Read on for secrets about your social security benefits you should know, according to financial experts.
You can assign someone to help you with your payments.
Keeping your finances in order can be a difficult task at any age, but it can be especially challenging as we get older. Fortunately, those who become unable to manage their own benefits can assign someone to help oversee the process and make sure everything is taken care of.
"It is understood that not every person is able to manage their affairs. For this person, representative payees can be appointed to assist," Jeffrey Stouffer, a certified financial planner and finance expert at JustAnswer, tells Best Life. "Any recipient that has cognitive impairments will benefit from having such a representative to assist in managing the payments."
"This role is a very serious one, and Social Security will hold a person that holds this role fully accountable," Stouffer explains. "Social Security does seek individuals that can act as a payee if the recipient does not have someone who can serve in this role."
Your benefits aren't set in stone.
Making the change from taking a salary to collecting Social Security benefits as your primary source of income can be a daunting move—especially if you're hoping to live comfortably. But if you're not planning on retiring early, you might be surprised to learn that you can earn even more when you eventually decide to leave the workforce.
"You have the ability to increase your benefits by working longer and earning more," says Tommy Gallagher, a former investment banker and the founder of Top Mobile Banks. "For every year you delay starting to receive your benefits past your full retirement age, your monthly benefit amount will increase by a certain percentage. This can make a significant difference in your retirement income, especially if you are able to continue working into your later years."
"However, it is important to carefully consider your personal circumstances before deciding to delay claiming your benefits. For example, if you have a lower life expectancy or are in poor health, it may not make sense to delay receiving your benefits," he advises. "It is always a good idea to speak with a financial advisor or professional before making a decision about when to start receiving your social security benefits."
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You can use your native language.
Learning the ropes with Social Security is complicated enough without adding linguistic difficulties into the equation. Thankfully, experts say that one of the surprises about beginning to collect benefits is that it doesn't always matter what your first language is.
"Not every Social Security recipient speaks English. Translation and interpretation services for several languages are available," says Stoffer. "A call to Social Security to see if a certain language is covered will go a long way. And the website provides materials in several languages."
You can receive certain benefits if you live and work abroad.
You likely know that your work history will affect how much you can collect in benefits—in fact, you might even have noticed the tax on one of your pay stubs. But even if you're working outside the U.S. and not subject to the same payroll credits, experts say your experience will still be good toward your ultimate collection amount.
"For Americans who work and live in other countries, those countries that offer a similar program for citizens of that country and have entered into a tax treaty with the U.S., the earnings and foreign taxes paid on such income will receive the same credit towards earnings paid in the U.S. that are subject to FICA tax," explains Stoffer. "This means that living and working in one of these countries for an extended period of time will not impact the lifetime earnings that will be used to determine the Social Security monthly benefit."
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Your marital status can sometimes boost how much you collect.
Depending on your family arrangement, it's likely that one member of a couple stopped working or pulled back on their career to help raise a family or tend to an elderly loved one. But if you're married, just because you weren't on payroll doesn't mean you can't collect a Social Security check when you hit a certain age.
"It's possible to receive benefits on both your own work record and on a spouse's work record," says Gallagher. "If you are married, you may be eligible to receive spousal benefits based on your spouse's work history, even if you have never worked or have a low earning history. This can be especially helpful for stay-at-home parents or those who have taken time off work for caregiving responsibilities."
Best Life offers the most up-to-date financial information from top experts and the latest news and research, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the money you're spending, saving, or investing, always consult your financial advisor directly.