For many senior citizens, Social Security is the most important part of their retirement income. The news of a Social Security bonus is enticing for many, but unfortunately, this is not something that exists in the current program. The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t offer any “bonuses” to Social Security recipients.

It’s important to understand, however, that there are many things you can do to maximize your retirement benefits. You can employ some of the simple strategies we’ve listed in this guide to get a larger benefit check.

What Is a Social Security Bonus?

Generally, the idea of a Social Security bonus is an extra payment on top of the regular benefits you receive. However, the Social Security Administration doesn’t award bonuses or extra money to retirees.  

Even during periods of economic emergency, there have never been any “bonus payments” made to Social Security Disability or Social Security Retirement Income recipients.  

None of the stimulus payments that Americans received in March and December of 2020, and again in March 2021, came from the Social Security Administration.  The entire $4.4 trillion in Economic Impact Payments were issued to all Americans directly from the U.S. Treasury and other government entities, regardless of their age.

In practice, the Social Security Administration uses a specific formula based on lifetime employment earnings to determine the benefit amount for retired workers. There are no bonuses paid out on top of the regular benefits you’re entitled to receive based on this formula. 

However, you may be eligible for financial help if you’re on Social Security, such as the Medicare Savings Program (MSP), the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP).

Is the $16,728 Social Security Bonus Real?

The $16,728 Social Security bonus you may have seen advertised on several internet sites and social media platforms is not real. If you’re already receiving Social Security, there are no additional bonus checks you can receive, no matter what anyone may try to tell you.   

However, if you’d like to receive a bigger benefit check, there are a number of strategies you can use to maximize your retirement income. For example, you can wait till you reach your Full Retirement Age (FRA), which is based on the year you were born, to start collecting benefits to receive the highest monthly payments you’re eligible for. If you were born in 1960 or later, your Full Retirement Age for claiming Social Security retirement benefits is 67. 

How To Maximize Your Social Security Benefits

There are many things you can do to qualify for higher retirement benefits, which can be as good as a Social Security bonus. Here are a few strategies to consider.

1. Earn More Money

Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on “average indexed monthly earnings,” which considers how much you’ve paid into the system through your working years. The higher your income and the more you’ve paid over the years in Social Security taxes, the larger your benefit can be.

Employees and employers pay 6.2% of wages each, up to $168,600 in salary, as of 2024 (this wage amount is adjusted for inflation every year). Paying Social Security taxes on this maximum wage amount means you’ll be maxing out your contributions. 

High earners who do this throughout their working life may be eligible to get the maximum benefit amount ($3,822/mo at FRA or $4,873/mo at age 70) when they begin receiving benefits.

2. Work for 35 Years

You can qualify to collect Social Security checks starting as soon as age 62, even after working for just ten years (more specifically, 40 calendar quarters) of your life.  However, you’ll be able to collect a larger Social Security benefit overall if you work for the full 35 years. 

The benefit amount you’re qualified to receive is based on the average of your 35 highest-earning years. It’s important to note that for the years in which you didn’t work, your taxable earned income from employment will be $0, which brings down your average Social Security taxes paid per year, which in turn reduces your Social Security retirement benefits, once you decide to claim them.

The higher your years of taxable earned income from employment, the higher your benefit can be. However, the benefits you receive are subject to maximum limits. For 2024, the maximum monthly Social Security benefit for those who begin benefits at age 67 is $3,822/month, and $4,873/month for those who start receiving benefits at the age of 70.

3. Delay Benefits Till You Reach Full Retirement Age

While you can claim your Social Security retirement benefits at the age of 62 and begin collecting benefits, you’ll be leaving money on the table by doing so. 

The full retirement age is 66 for those born in 1943 through 1959 and age 67 for those born in 1960 or later. For those born in 1955 through 1959, two months are added to the base Full Retirement Age of 66 for each of these six (6) years to calculate your FRA based on your birth year.  

For anyone and everyone born in 1960 or later, you will officially reach your FRA on your birthday, the year in which you turn 67 years old.

If you want to get the maximum retirement benefits you qualify for, wait at least until you reach your Full Retirement Age. This will allow you to receive your full benefits based on your employment history and income. 

You can receive an even larger Social Security retirement benefit in terms of dollars per month if you can delay the start of your benefits until you’re 70. Benefit recipients who do this can get an extra 8% in additional monthly income for every year they delay claiming their benefits.

4. Get Spousal Benefits

If you’re married but haven’t contributed much, or even anything, to Social Security, you may be able to claim spousal benefits, which can be as much as 50% of your spouse’s benefits each month. You can file a spousal benefit claim under his/her earnings record as early as age 62, but only if your spouse has also filed to collect benefits as well.

You may also qualify for these spousal benefits if you’re divorced but haven’t remarried since then. Both parties in a divorce can claim the benefit based on the other spouse’s Social Security retirement benefits. A great deal of financial planning is involved when two spouses are five or more years apart in age but expect to receive about the same benefits under their own Social Security record.

5. Check To See if You Qualify for Survivor Benefits

If your spouse or ex-spouse is deceased and was eligible for a higher Social Security benefit amount than you may qualify for on your own, you may be eligible for the survivor benefit. Even if your spouse passed away before applying for benefits, you may qualify for his/her higher benefit amount.

6. Speak With a Professional

Brad Reichert, founder and managing director of Reichert Asset Management LLC, recommends consulting with an experienced professional to maximize your Social Security Benefits.

“Look for a financial advisor who is a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®) or holds the National Social Security Advisor (NSSA) or the Registered Social Security Analyst® (RSSA®) credentials,” Reichert advises. “These last two industry-specific credentials require an in-depth study of the U.S. Social Security program and all aspects related to qualifying for and receiving benefits,” he adds. 

Reichert believes that when you consult with an advisor who carries NSSA or RSSA credentials, you’re ensuring you’ll receive the highest quality advice about your situation. 

There’s No Social Security Bonus, but You Can Maximize Benefits

The idea that the government is handing out a Social Security bonus isn’t accurate. There’s no bonus you can receive in your bank account on top of the retirement benefit you’re already receiving or would qualify to receive once you claim your benefits. You’ll see a bump in the payout you receive each year due to the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), which is announced in October each year.  The annual Social Security COLA is based on the average U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the 12 calendar months prior to the announcement (i.e., from October to October of each year).

However, it’s important to understand how Social Security benefits work, how they’re calculated, and ways you can receive the maximum benefit amount. You can also speak to a personal finance expert specializing in Social Security to determine how to maximize your retirement savings. If you still need a little help, check to see if you qualify for government benefits for seniors for housing, healthcare, food, and transportation.