1. Thirty-five is the magic number. Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on an average of your 35 highest-paid years. If you work fewer than 35, there will be a zero for every year you're short, diminishing your benefits.
2. The longer you wait, the more money you get. If you claim your benefits at 70 instead of 62, your monthly payment will be 76% more.
3. Waiting, however, is a gamble. The average lifespan for an American man is 75 years; for a woman it's 80.
4. If you stayed married for at least 10 years you can collect Social Security benefits based on your ex's earnings, and it won't affect his or her payouts.
5. If an ex-spouse dies, you can claim the same benefits as a widow or widower.
6. If you're a widow or widower, you have more flexibility with planning your benefits. You can begin collecting your late spouse's benefits if you're at least 60 years old. You then have the option of switching to your own benefits when you turn 70, at which time they've reached their full earning potential.
7. When applying for Social Security Disability Insurance, hire a lawyer before submitting the application. Don't wait until you've already been denied.
8. If you have a request, it's best to go to a Social Security office in person rather than submit a change electronically.
Published May 6, 2013