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| Social Security was designed to supplement only pensions and retirement savings. But for many, that's no longer the case. Among beneficiaries 65 and older, 1 out of 5 married couples — and 2 out of 5 singles — receive at least 90 percent of their income from the program, according to the Social Security Administration.
Living mostly on Social Security alone can be difficult. But here are tips for those near or in retirement who may find themselves in that situation.
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Delay Social Security
Of course, if you're ailing and not likely to live many years in retirement, you're better off taking Social Security benefits early. But if you're healthy and have other resources to live off, it pays to wait. Your monthly payment will be 76 percent higher if you wait to start benefits at 70 rather than 62, the earliest possible age.
By staying in your job longer or finding part-time work in retirement, you can earn a paycheck that can help you postpone drawing on Social Security benefits early.
Do a Social Security do-over
What if you took Social Security early and now regret it? It may not be too late.
If you only recently filed for Social Security, you have up to 12 months to withdraw your application for a do-over. You must repay — without interest — all the benefits you received up to that point. But from then on, your benefit can grow until you're ready to file again.
If the 12-month deadline has passed, you have another chance to boost your benefit. Once you reach your full retirement age — currently 66 — you can suspend your monthly payments without having to repay the money you already received. Thereafter, each year your payments are in suspension — until 70 — you will earn extra retirement credits that will enlarge your benefit by up to 8 percent annually.
Maximize Social Security survivor benefits
When planning with your spouse about when to take Social Security, don't overlook survivor benefits. Once one of you dies, your two monthly Social Security checks will go down to one — and the survivor will receive whichever amount is larger. One common strategy is for the higher earner to delay taking Social Security as long as possible to maximize the benefit for the survivor.
To explore your options for making the most out of benefits, set up an appointment at your local Social Security office.