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Social Security Mailbox

Can I Buy a Higher Benefit?

This and 3 other unusual questions answered 


Your Social Security Mailbox questions answered

Can you buy higher Social Security benefits? Your unusual retirement benefit questions answered. — Adam Voorhes

En español | Q: I'm 71, still working and collecting Social Security. When I retire soon, I'll have a $150,000 lump sum coming to me from my employer. Can I give the $150,000 to Social Security and get an increase in my monthly benefit?

A: Sorry, but the answer is no. That's not the way Social Security works. Social Security benefits are based on your lifetime earnings — in particular your highest 35 years. There is simply no way for you to add earnings this way to your record.

So you'll have to find another way to use your $150,000. You might consider seeking advice from a certified financial planner (CFP) in your community. Try the Financial Planning Association at www.fpanet.org or, for fee-only planners, try the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors at www.napfa.org.

Q: My mother died at age 52, my father at age 58. What happens to all the money that they paid into Social Security and never collected?

A: Basically, the money has already been used to pay benefits to other people, whether they're the children of a 30-year-old widow or retirees who've lived into their 80s or 90s. Social Security is not like a retirement account, in which you put money that accumulates interest and comes back to you as benefits. Rather, today's contributions fund benefits for today's beneficiaries. Had your parents lived long enough to begin benefits, their monthly checks would have been funded by contributions of people still working.

Community: Share your fears about Social Security. Join the Discussion

In the Social Security system, some workers will contribute more than they will receive in benefits, while others will contribute less. To that extent, Social Security is a bit of a gamble. Perhaps that's one of the reasons many people take their Social Security benefits at 62, the earliest age they can do so, even though the amount they get is reduced.

Next page: What about ex-spouse benefits? »

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