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3 Social Security Secrets for Even Bigger Checks

By Selena Maranjian – Dec 17, 2021 at 8:34AM

Key Points

  • Working longer can increase your ultimate check size.
  • Delaying starting to collect your benefits can increase them by about 8% per year, up to a limit.
  • Earning more is another benefit-boosting strategy.

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The size of your Social Security benefit checks is partly under your control.

If you don't have a massive retirement account or a solid pension coming to you, you're probably going to depend on Social Security income more than you expected to. Even people with those expected income streams will find Social Security income quite valuable. It's not likely to provide quite as much as you'd like, though: Recently, the average monthly retirement benefit check was just $1,564, or about $18,768 annually.

You'll get more than that if your earnings history has been above average, though, and on top of that, there are ways to make your checks bigger. Here are three.

Two smiling people looking at the camera and holding hands.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Work longer

For starters, working longer might be an effective way for you to boost your benefits. That's because the benefit formula averages your earnings in the 35 years in which you earned the most (on an inflation-adjusted basis). So if you haven't got 35 years of earnings, some zeroes might be worked into the calculation, bringing down your average earnings.

Even if you have worked 35 years, if you earned much less (on an inflation-adjusted basis) in some of them than you do now, you can boost your Social Security checks by working another year or more. For every year that you do, the lowest-earning year in your record will be kicked out, replaced by your new, higher-earning year.

2. Delay starting to collect your benefits

You can also make your Social Security checks bigger by delaying starting to collect them. For each year beyond your "full retirement age" that you delay, up to age 70, your benefits will grow by about 8% per year. That full retirement age (the age at which you can start collecting the full benefits to which you're entitled based on your earnings history) is 66 or 67 for most of us. So if yours is 67 and you delay starting to collect until age 70, you can boost those benefits by about 24%! That's enough to turn a $2,000 check into a $2,480 one.

The table below shows the percentage of your full benefits that you'll receive based on when you start collecting. Note that those who start collecting early have their benefit checks reduced -- though they do receive many more of them, so it's not as bad as it may seem.

Start Collecting at:

Full retirement age of 66 

Full retirement age of 67 




























Data source: Social Security Administration. 

3. Earn more

Finally, you can boost your benefits by earning more -- so that the earnings that are factored into the benefit calculation are bigger numbers than they would otherwise be. You might earn more by regularly asking for a raise or by climbing up your career ladder by actively seeking promotions or better jobs elsewhere.

You might also take on one or more side gigs, such as tutoring kids, making and selling things online, giving language or music lessons, doing freelance work, or just taking some shifts at a local retailer or restaurant. If you can generate $100 per week, on average, that's more than $5,000 per year.

However you go about it, it's well worth acting on some benefit-boosting strategy, because those Social Security dollars you receive during retirement will be extremely valuable.

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