Social Security Strategy

Making decisions to maximize your benefits

The earliest you can claim Social Security benefits is age 62, but you could wait to claim benefits as late as age 70—and you very likely may want to. The age at which you are eligible to claim full and unreduced benefits (also known as your "primary insurance amount") is your Full Retirement Age, or FRA. When you are thinking about retirement, your FRA is a number you should know.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) determines the amount you receive in benefit payments: this is calculated largely by your lifetime earnings and your average lifetime expectancy.

Once you start receiving Social Security benefits, you receive them for the rest of your life, and indeed, you may live long enough that the Social Security benefits you receive exceed the total amount you contributed in taxes.

"Maximizing" your Social Security benefits means making decisions that will help you plan for retirement and manage Social Security most effectively.

How can I maximize my benefits?

The following are some of the major considerations to make in developing your strategy around Social Security benefits.

Choose the best time to claim

Social Security benefits calculator
Compare estimated monthly and lifetime benefits at different claiming ages, and see how other factors may affect your benefits amount.

For illustrative purposes only.

If you claim Social Security benefits at age 62 or 66, you'll obviously start getting benefits earlier than if you waited to claim at age 70.

On average, however, waiting to claim benefits until age 70 yields larger benefit payments.

If you have other sources of income in retirement (e.g., a pension or income from investments), you may be able to wait to claim benefits until you turn 70; or, depending on your health or other factors unique to your life, you may not want to wait until age 70 to claim benefits.

Leverage your marital status

If you're married, it's to your advantage to coordinate your retirement plan with that of your spouse. Perhaps you can choose when to retire but your spouse cannot, or perhaps your spouse's lifetime earnings are greater than yours. Strategize and make plans with your spouse so that together and individually, you maximize your benefits.

If you're divorced, you may qualify, under certain circumstances, to claim benefits based on the earnings record of your former spouse. Whether or not you claim spousal benefits also plays a role in the optimal timing of your own retirement.

If you are a widow or a widower, you are eligible to collect your former spouse's Social Security payments as a survivor benefit. You can also switch from receiving your own benefit to receiving a survivor benefit, and vice versa.

Plan your retirement budget

Your desired standard of living in retirement, your projected expenses, and planning for unexpected expenses will all factor into your plan for when to retire and how to maximize your benefits.

Consider any other source of income you will have in retirement: Will you have a pension from the military or a career as a teacher? Do you anticipate, in retirement, becoming an entrepreneur or getting a part-time job? Do you have other savings or income-generating investments to rely on?

Remember, too, that your retirement income also affects whether or not your Social Security benefits are taxed.

Social Security is part of a larger conversation about when you plan to retire, and what you expect or want your retirement to be like.

Visit the SSA website to request your Social Security statement, calculate your FRA, or estimate your future retirement, disability, or survivor benefits. Then enter your estimated Social Security benefit information into the Fidelity Planning & Guidance Center to see how Social Security fits with your overall retirement plan.

Also watch these informative Fidelity videos:

Next steps

Estimate Social Security

Answer 5 simple questions to estimate your benefits.

Have a retirement income plan

Create or fine-tune a retirement income plan in our Planning & Guidance Center.

Get the most from Social Security

When and how to take it is one of your first and most important retirement decisions.