Optimizing Social Security Benefits

Social Security was established in 1935 and has become the primary source of income to most elderly Americans, providing $1.2 trillion in benefits to 70 million people in 2021. Approximately half of the seniors in the United States receive at least 50% of their income from Social Security benefits and for about 25% of all seniors in the nation, Social Security makes up 90% of household income.

The average monthly Social Security benefit is $1,500 per month, placing this income just above the national poverty level of $1,452 for a two-person household. In addition, Social Security Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA’s) have not kept pace with inflation. Since 2011, the average COLA increase has onl been 1.6% while inflation during that same time period has risen 2%. While a COLA increase of 6% or better is expected in 2022, giving seniors a much needed and well-deserved raise, Social Security should be looked at as a supplement to savings, investments, and/or pension as opposed to a sole source of income.

Should there not be other income to rely upon, there are some strategies to help seniors reliant on Social Security get the most out of their money:

  • Wait to collect: The age to qualify for Social Security is 62, but the longer it can be delayed, up to age 70, the more benefit they will receive
    a. As of 2021, the monthly benefit level for a person who retires having paid in the maximum contributions is $2,324 if starting at age 62 but $3,895 if starting at age 70
  • Ex’s benefits increase the payout: The spouse of a deceased or divorced partner can collect a higher amount based on their ex’s benefits if they are higher than their own.
    a. If a person is going to re-marry, they can still collect based on their ex-spouse, but only if they re-marry after reaching the age of 60
    b. In the case of divorce, an ex-spouse can collect up to 50% of the other’s benefit if they are 62 or older, were married at least 10 years, and are single
  • Continue to generate an income: A person can continue to generate an income while on Social Security without owing any tax penalty against their benefit as long as it is at $18,960 or lower for an individual in 2021

While it’s not ideal to live solely on Social Security benefits, with the raise coming in 2021 and the above listed tips, seniors can make the most out of the money they have put into the Social Security system over the years.


Chris Orestis, CSA is President of Retirement Genius, and is a nationally recognized financial, health/LTC, and retirement issues expert. He has over 25 years’ experience in the insurance and long-term care industries and is credited with pioneering the Long-Term Care Life Settlement over a decade ago. Known as a political insider and senior issues advocate, Orestis is a former Washington, D.C. lobbyist who has worked in both the White House and for the Senate Majority Leader on Capitol Hill. In 2019, Chris was named one of the twenty most innovative people in the insurance industry by the National Association of Independent Brokerage Agencies (NAILBA).