In Jan. 2022, the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit check was $1,661 -- amounting to about $20,000 per year. That's clearly not sufficient to support most of us comfortably in retirement. You will collect more if you've earned more than average during your working life, but it's still likely to be far less than you'd like.
Fortunately, we can augment that Social Security income by saving and investing during our working years. We can also employ some strategies to boost our eventual benefits. Here are three.
1. Claim a spousal benefit
Many people don't realize that spousal benefits exist, but they do -- and they can be a godsend for many people, such as those who have earned little or nothing during their working years (perhaps due to staying at home and caring for children) or those who have earned far less than their spouse.
Social Security spousal benefits can deliver up to 50% of the benefit your spouse is eligible to collect at their full retirement age (which is 66 or 67 for most of us these days). The rules can be a little tricky, so be sure to read up on them if the prospect of spousal benefits is attractive.
In general, you can't collect until you've reached age 62, you've been married at least a year, and your spouse has started collecting.
Spousal benefits are even available to divorced spouses, depending on a few criteria. For example, you must have been married for at least 10 years, been divorced for at least two years, and not remarried.
2. Beef up your income
Another way to increase your Social Security benefits is simply to earn more. You might not think that's possible, but it could be more possible than you think. For starters, have you asked for a raise at work lately? A 2018 PayScale.com report noted that 70% of surveyed workers who'd asked for a raise got one -- with 39% even getting the amount they asked for.
You might also increase your salary by finding a new, better-paying position. Earning an additional certification or degree can also help to make yourself eligible for higher pay.
Another strategy is to add a side gig or two to your routine. There are countless possibilities. An obvious one is simply securing a regular part-time job on the side. If you can earn, say, $16 per hour in 10 extra hours per week, that's $160 per week (pre-tax) -- more than $8,000 per year. Other possibilities include making and selling things online or offline, things like soaps, jewelry, sweaters, candles, and even furniture. You could tutor kids in school subjects or give kids or adults music or language lessons. Drive for a ride-sharing service. Be a dog-walker or cat-sitter.
Here's a last income-boosting strategy for increasing your Social Security benefits: The formula used to determine your benefits averages your earnings from the 35 years during which you earned the most (adjusted for inflation). So, once you have 35 years behind you, if you're earning more (on an inflation-adjusted basis) than you have in the past, each additional year that you work will kick out your lowest-earning year from the calculation, boosting your benefit.
3. Claim your benefits early -- or late
Finally, you can make your benefits bigger or smaller by starting to collect them earlier or later than your full retirement age. You can start as early as age 62 and as late as age 70. For each year you delay, your benefits will increase by about 8%. So, delaying from 67 to 70 will hike that benefit by about 24%. That's clearly a good way to get more out of Social Security -- but only if you live a longer-than-average life. The system is designed so that those who live average-length lives will collect about the same total benefits no matter when they start collecting. (After all, those collecting later will receive fewer checks.)
For some people, a less obvious way to get more out of the program is to start collecting your benefits early. This can be a smart move if you're not in great health or many of your relatives have not lived long lives. For example, if you stand a good chance of dying around age 75, starting at age 62 will give you checks for 13 years -- as many as 156 of them -- whereas starting at your full retirement age of 67 would get you only eight years of checks. They would be bigger than if you'd waited until age 67, but you'd receive only about 96 of them.
These are some strategies you might think about employing to beef up your eventual Social Security checks. To create additional retirement income for yourself, make sure you're saving and investing for your retirement, too.