Social Security benefits don't provide as much money as many people think. In fact, the average retiree receives just $1,544 per month in 2021. That's hardly enough to live on.
The good news is, you can often beat the average -- if you know the right moves to make. Here are a few steps to take if your goal is to get a bigger Social Security check than the typical retiree.
1. Earn more than the average person
Benefits are based on average wages over the course of your lifetime. That means if you want to do better than the average benefit, you must make more money than the typical American. And you need to do so for as many years as possible because the Social Security Administration calculates your average wage based on your highest 35 years of earnings (after adjusting for inflation).
You can raise your income in a number of ways, from working a side gig that you pay Social Security taxes on to negotiating your raises to developing your job skills. But the sooner you increase your paychecks and the more years you put in at a higher earning level, the better your odds of beating the average benefit.
2. Claim benefits at age 70
Most retirees claim benefits at age 62, while full retirement age (FRA) is the second most popular age to start getting checks. Starting checks at 62 results in a reduction of your standard benefit, while waiting until full retirement age entitles you to receive your primary insurance amount (PIA).
If you want to beat the average monthly benefit, though, you may want to wait until 70 to start getting your retirement money. That's because every month you delay past your full retirement age enables you to earn a delayed retirement credit. These credits can raise your benefit amount by 8% for each full year of waiting for benefits after FRA. That's a significant income increase that can help you raise your checks above the average amount.
3. Put in more than 35 years on the job
If you quit working after exactly 35 years, every single year that you had a job will count in determining the average wage your benefit is based on. If you work less than 35 years, benefits will still be based on a 35-year average, but that number will be lower due to the inclusion of $0 wage years in your calculation.
But if you're like most people, you'll probably increase your earning power over time, and you may end up making a lot more later in your career. If you can stay on the job a few extra years at your elevated income, you'll end up replacing some low earning years with some higher ones. The resulting increase in average wages may push the size of your checks above the average $1,544 monthly payment.
Ultimately, you'll need to decide if delaying a benefits claim, working longer, or aggressively increasing your income during your career is worth it. But there's no question that taking these three steps should help you to get a Social Security benefit that's well above what the average American receives.