The larger your Social Security benefit, the more financial security you'll have as a retiree. While these benefits can't be your only source of support, they're an important one, and taking steps to maximize them is a smart move.

There are steps you should be taking throughout your lifetime if you're hoping to get the largest benefit possible. Here's what they are. 

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Don't miss the chance to maximize your Social Security benefit

To understand how to maximize your Social Security, you need to know how benefits are calculated. Specifically, the standard benefit you receive is based on average wages in the 35 years you earned the most money (after adjusting for inflation). This standard benefit could be raised or lowered based on the age you start getting checks.

While delaying the start of your retirement benefits can raise the monthly amount you receive, you won't be able to do that until late in life -- and some people can't afford to do that because they must retire early and need Social Security to do it.

But there are steps you can, and should, take throughout your working life to raise your benefit. Specifically, you should aim to earn as high an income as possible for as many years as you can. By raising the amount you earn, you'll end up with a larger average wage over your career and thus will earn a higher Social Security benefit.

That means if you aren't taking a few key steps to increase your earnings over your career, you'll miss out on a key chance for bigger retirement checks. These steps may include:

  • Negotiating your salary when you get a new job. Simply accepting the salary you're offered could result in leaving money on the table. When you start at a lower salary, future raises also typically won't increase your income as much since most raises are based on your current salary as a starting point. 
  • Negotiating for raises during performance reviews. If you've got a good track record and can present compelling advice showing how you've added to the company's bottom line, your employer should be willing to work with you. 
  • Applying for better jobs if you're stalled at work. If you aren't advancing or being paid what you're worth, you're not only missing out on income now but are reducing your future Social Security benefits. Don't be afraid to look for better opportunities, especially in today's competitive job market. 
  • Improving your work skills. If you can develop more marketable skills, hopefully you can earn more raises or move into higher-paying positions that raise the wages included in your career average for Social Security. 

You can also consider a side job to increase income, and you may want to work for a few extra years later in life if your salary has gone up as you've aged. By working more than 35 years, you can ensure some of your lower-earning early years don't drag your average wage down.

Taking these steps to increase income should help you out currently and can enable you to both save more for retirement and qualify for larger Social Security checks in your later years. It may be uncomfortable to push to earn a higher salary, but it's well worth your effort.