There's a reason why seniors are often advised not to rely too heavily on Social Security in retirement. Those benefits will replace about 40% of your pre-retirement wages if you're an average earner. But most seniors need about twice that much income to live comfortably, which means Social Security alone won't cut it.
That said, there are steps you can take to get more money out of Social Security. Here are a few strategies you can employ to enjoy larger checks for the rest of your life.
1. Extend your career once your earnings peak
Social Security doesn't pay the same monthly benefit to all seniors. Rather, the amount of money you're entitled to will hinge on how much you earn during your 35 highest-paid years in the workforce.
If you don't have a full 35 years of work under your belt, it could pay to extend your career. For each year within that top 35 that there's no income history on record for you, you'll have $0 factored into your benefit calculation.
But even if you do have a 35-year work history, it could still pay to extend your career once you reach your peak earnings. That way, you can replace a few years of lower income with higher income, thereby boosting your benefit.
2. Wait until age 70 to file
You're entitled to your full monthly benefit based on your earnings history once full retirement age (FRA) arrives. FRA hinges on your year of birth, and it's either 66, 67, or somewhere in between (meaning, 66 and a specific number of months).
But for each month you delay your filing past FRA, your benefit gets a small boost. Holding off for a couple of months won't make a big difference, but holding off for a couple of years might.
In fact, you can accrue delayed retirement credits for waiting to file for benefits all the way until age 70. And for each full year you delay your filing, your benefit gets an 8% bump. If your FRA is 67 and you wait until age 70 to sign up for Social Security, you'll be looking at a 24% increase for the rest of your life.
3. Boost your income with a second job
It's a big misconception that only salaried wages count toward Social Security. If you work any sort of side gig you pay taxes on, whether it's driving for a ride-hailing service, walking dogs, or telemarketing, that income counts toward calculating your future benefit. So if you're unable to score consistent raises at your main job, it pays to look at taking on a side job.
Incidentally, holding down a second job could make it easier to free up cash for retirement savings purposes. And while you can clearly take steps to boost your Social Security income, even with an increased monthly benefit, it still pays to bring as much money as you can with you into retirement.
Don't settle for less
Social Security could end up being an important source of income once you retire. If you're willing to make some sacrifices, with careful planning, you can set yourself up for a higher benefit -- and enjoy the financial freedom that comes with it.