3 Social Security Secrets Every Retiree Needs to Know

Social Security can play a major role in your retirement, so it's wise to ensure you know as much as possible about how your benefits are calculated -- the more you understand about how the program works, the better decisions you can make to maximize your monthly checks.

These three Social Security secrets may help you collect more money each month in retirement.

Social Security card with bills and coins

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1. You can continue working even after you begin claiming

Social Security and retirement often go hand in hand, but you don't necessarily have to quit working once you file for benefits. In fact, continuing to work after claiming Social Security could result in larger checks down the road.

If you haven't yet reached your full retirement age (FRA) -- which is 67 years old for those born in 1960 or later, or either 66 or 66 and a few months for those born before 1960 -- your benefits could be reduced depending on how much you're earning. During the years leading up to your FRA, your benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn over the annual limit of $18,240. Then in the year you reach your FRA, your checks will shrink by $1 for every $3 you earn over $48,600.

Keep in mind, though, that these deductions are only temporary. Once you reach your FRA, the Social Security Administration will recalculate your benefit amount to account for the money that was withheld, resulting in larger checks each month.

2. If you're divorced, you may be entitled to extra benefits

Married couples may be entitled to spousal benefits -- but even if you're no longer married, you may still be able to collect extra money each month based on your ex-spouse's work record.

To be eligible for divorce benefits, you must be at least 62 years old, you cannot currently be married, and your previous marriage has to have lasted for at least 10 years. If you qualify for divorce benefits, the maximum amount you can receive is 50% of the amount your ex-spouse is entitled to receive at his or her FRA.

If you're entitled to Social Security benefits based on your own work record, that doesn't automatically disqualify you from collecting divorce benefits. However, you'll only receive the higher of the two amounts -- not both. So, for instance, if your ex-spouse is entitled to receive $2,500 per month at his or her FRA, you could collect up to half that amount, or $1,250. If you're entitled to, say, $1,000 per month based on your own work record, you'd only receive the higher of the two amounts, or $1,250 per month.

3. You have one chance to undo your decision if you claim too early -- if you act fast

Determining when to claim benefits is a big decision, and it's usually a permanent one, too. In general, once you file for Social Security, you're stuck with your decision for the rest of your life.

However, you do have one opportunity to reverse your decision. If you claim too early and regret your choice, you can withdraw your application. You only have a 12-month window to reverse your decision after you begin claiming, though, and you will also need to repay all the money you've already received in benefits. This may not be feasible for many people, but if you're able to undo your claiming decision, you could receive hundreds of dollars more per month by delaying benefits.

Social Security benefits can potentially make or break your retirement. By learning as much as you can about what types of benefits you're entitled to and how much you can receive each month, you may be able to enjoy a more financially secure retirement.

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