Your 2024 Social Security Guide

Your 2024 Social Security Guide

March 19, 2024

The years leading up to retirement can feel overwhelming (to say the least). Perhaps you feel a mix of excitement for the new chapter ahead, stress about the logistics, and confusion about the Social Security process. 

As record numbers of retirees are expected with the baby boomer generation reaching age 65 and older adults transitioning out of the workforce, understanding your benefits fully—and how to maximize them—is more crucial than ever.

Through this comprehensive guide, our goal is to empower you and our clients to feel confident and well prepared to optimize your Social Security benefits as you embark on the next stage of your life.

How Are Social Security Benefits Calculated?

Your Social Security benefits are calculated by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Benefits are based on lifetime earnings across your 35 highest earning years. You must work a minimum of 10 years to be eligible for benefits. If you have worked less than 35 years, your earnings will be calculated with zeros for the years you have not worked. All past wages are indexed to today’s wages in order to accurately reflect wage growth.

Once your average monthly earnings for your top 35 years are calculated, a special formula is applied and the result is your primary insurance amount (PIA). The PIA is the benefit you are eligible to receive when you reach full retirement age (FRA).

The actual benefit you receive may not be your PIA. This is because your PIA will be increased or decreased depending on when you choose to receive benefits. Taking benefits before FRA will reduce your benefit, and waiting until after FRA will increase your monthly benefit. Also, starting at age 62, your eligible benefits will receive regular cost-of-living adjustments (COLA).

Spousal Benefits

Married people are eligible for benefits based on their spouse’s work history. The spousal benefit is 50% of the working spouse’s earned benefit. In order to receive these benefits, the working spouse must be at least 62 and have already filed for benefits.

If you are divorced, you may also be eligible to receive spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work history. Your marriage needs to have lasted at least 10 years, you must be divorced for at least two years, and you must still be single. In addition, you need to be at least 62 and not eligible for a higher benefit amount based on your own work record. Unlike spousal benefits for married people, your ex-spouse does not need to have filed for benefits in order for you to claim them. 

When Can You Claim Social Security Benefits?

You can claim your Social Security benefits anytime between age 62 and age 70. If you continue to delay taking benefits after you reach age 70, there is no additional benefit increase.  However, the age at which you choose to collect benefits before 70 will impact the amount of benefit you receive.

Early Retirement

You can start receiving benefits as early as 62, but your monthly benefit will be lower than if you waited longer. Your basic benefit is reduced a fraction of a percent for each month you begin receiving benefits prior to full retirement age. Retiring early can permanently reduce your benefit by up to 30%.

Full Retirement Age

Your full retirement age (FRA) changes based on the year you were born. FRA is 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954 and increases by two months for every year after that you were born until it settles at age 67 for those born in 1960 or later. If you wait until you reach full retirement age to begin collecting your Social Security benefits, you will receive the full PIA that you have earned. 

Delayed Benefits

If you’re still working or don’t need the money immediately, you can delay receiving your benefits. Your benefit will increase by 8% for each year that you delay, with a maximum possible increase of 32%. You cannot delay and increase your benefit indefinitely, though. Once you reach age 70, the amount of benefits you receive will not increase any further. 

When Is the Best Time to Claim Social Security Benefits?

While you are working, you can increase your future Social Security benefits by earning higher wages. Once you stop working, though, the only influence you have over your benefit is when you begin to take it. Your timing has a great impact on the amount of the benefit you will receive and should be carefully considered.

Social Security Statement

An important document that you will reference during the decision-making process is your Social Security statement. The Social Security Administration mails statements to workers age 60 and over who aren’t receiving Social Security benefits and do not yet have a my Social Security account. These statements will be mailed out three months prior to your birthday, but you can also access the same information by setting up an account on their website.  

The statement will tell you your:

  • Estimated benefit if taken at age 62
  • Estimated benefit if taken at FRA
  • Estimated benefit if taken at age 70
  • Estimated disability benefit
  • Estimated family and survivor benefits
  • Medicare information
  • Earnings history

All benefit amounts listed are estimates and subject to change. They are calculated based on your date of birth and future estimated taxable earnings.

It is important to review your earnings history and check for accuracy. Your benefit is calculated based on those numbers, so any mistakes can affect your benefits. You should correct any errors as soon as possible. 

Deciding When to Claim Benefits

Your Social Security benefits are calculated using complex actuarial equations based on life expectancy and estimated rates of return. They are not designed to encourage early or late retirement. If you live as long as anticipated, the total amount you receive over your lifetime should be about the same whether you claim it at age 62, age 70, or sometime in between. You will either receive the money as a smaller monthly payment over a longer period of time or a larger monthly payment over a shorter period of time. 

The best time for you to claim your benefits depends on your personal situation and health. If you expect to live longer than average, your overall lifetime benefit will be greater if you delay claiming your benefits to increase your benefit amount. If the opposite is true and you see little chance of making it into your mid-80s, you would likely receive a greater lifetime benefit by taking it sooner, even though it would be a smaller monthly payment. 

Once you decide when you want to start receiving benefits, remember to complete your application three months before the month in which you want your retirement benefits to begin.

How Can Married Couples Maximize Benefits?

Because married people have the ability to receive their own benefit or a spousal benefit, they have more to consider when filing for benefits. With the right strategy, married couples can maximize their benefits. 

In the majority of cases, the lower-earning spouse may want to begin collecting benefits early while the higher-earning spouse waits as long as possible. That way, you can access the lesser benefit while maximizing the higher benefit. 

Often, it is the husband with the higher benefit and the wife with the lower one. Women also tend to live longer than men. By following this strategy of waiting as long as possible to claim the higher benefit, you not only maximize the husband’s retirement benefit for use while he is alive, but it also maximizes the wife’s survivor benefit when he passes away.  

Restricted Application

While it used to be a popular claiming strategy, the Restricted Application is now only available to those born before January 2, 1954. By restricting your application, you can receive a spousal benefit if your spouse is already collecting benefits while allowing your own benefit to continue to grow until age 70. That way, you can begin to receive spousal benefits while maximizing your own benefit. 

How Does Working Affect Benefits?

Working does not affect your benefits once you reach FRA, but it does before that. Only earned income, such as wages and self-employment earnings, affects your Social Security benefits. Income from investments, pensions, and annuities do not affect Social Security benefits. 

When you are under FRA for the whole year, your Social Security benefit is reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn over $21,240. In the year that you reach FRA, your benefit is reduced by $1 for every $3 you earn over $56,520. Once you reach FRA, your benefit is no longer reduced no matter how much you earn. These dollar amounts adjust each year, so your benefit may change in following years.

2024 Cost-of-Living Adjustment 

In 2024 the COLA is 3.2%, with 2023’s 8.7% increase the biggest seen in 40 years. There is also an increase in the Social Security tax cap. The cap is increased from $160,200 to $168,600, meaning Social Security taxes will not be withheld from income earned above that amount.

This substantial increase in benefits will hopefully provide retirees some relief from the rising cost of goods and services. Historically, a COLA that fails to keep pace with inflation only serves to exacerbate financial hardships. It’s important to keep in mind that the COLA will affect pre-retirees and retirees differently. Here’s what to expect based on where you are in your retirement journey.

Retirees Taking Social Security

While this increase is good news for retirees, it’s not a license to change spending habits all that much—as most retirees know all too well

It will still be necessary to keep track of your finances, spending—and, importantly, your tax liabilities; some beneficiaries could experience increased taxes in the coming years, depending on their thresholds.

Retirees Not Taking Social Security

Retirees who have not started claiming Social Security will still reap the benefits of this increase even if they don’t take Social Security this year. There is never a decrease in the COLA, so the higher payments are here to stay. Keep in mind that, in some cases, it’s worth holding off taking Social Security for several years once you’re eligible as discussed above. Of course, the benefits of doing so vary based on individual circumstances.

Partner With a Trusted Professional

Depending on your retirement savings, deciding when and how to claim your Social Security benefits could be one of the most critical retirement choices you’ll make. Given the importance and complexity of this decision, seeking guidance from a wealth manager before starting the process is a wise move that can support the overall strategy of your retirement.

At Anderson Financial Strategies, we assist our clients through the Social Security process so they feel confident and prepared for the next phase of their life. If you’re approaching retirement and have questions about Social Security’s role in your overall plan, we’re here to help. Reach out by calling us at 855-237-4545 to schedule an executive briefing to discuss your goals.

About Shon

Shon Anderson is president and chief wealth strategist at Anderson Financial Strategies, LLC with over 15 years of experience. As a fiduciary, Shon’s mission is to provide his clients with quality financial expertise along with rapidly responsive service through an honest relationship. He specializes in providing family office-style services to help his clients organize and focus their financial life. Shon graduated from Wright State University with a bachelor’s degree in financial services and an MBA in finance. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner and holds the Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®) certification. His insights have been quoted in leading financial news publications such as CNBC, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, Consumer Reports, Forbes, Bankrate.com, Investment News, and Kiplinger. Shon serves as an adjunct professor teaching personal finance courses at Wright State University, leads CFP® exam review courses for Keir Educational Resources, and is president of the CFA Society Dayton. Shon and his wife, Jessica, reside in Sugarcreek Township, Ohio, and are blessed with triplet daughters, Elizabeth, Bridgette, and Alexandra, along with their son, Jacob, and dog, Jack. Over the years, Shon has been involved in several volunteer organizations including the Wright State chapter of Delta Tau Delta as an alumni advisor and was a Big Brother in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. To learn more about Shon, connect with him on LinkedIn.