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Everyone wants to be financially independent when they retire. And while things like having little or no debt when you retire and keeping your expenses low are good ways to have a better-quality retirement, how much money you can make in retirement is every bit as important. 

We asked three of our contributors to discuss a proven way to get more income in retirement. They gave us two things pre-retirees can do before they retire that will set them up for higher income, and one thing current retirees can do to make more income today. Here's what they had to say.

Max out your Social Security benefit
Dan Caplinger: The biggest source of income for most Americans in retirement is Social Security, so it's important to understand how the program works and how you can get more income from it. In general, the longer you work and the more you earn, the higher your monthly Social Security checks will be, because benefits are based on the top-earning 35 years of your work history.

The key issue many face with Social Security is when to claim benefits. Full retirement age for those retiring now is 66, but you can claim as early as age 62. The problem with claiming early is that you'll get smaller monthly payments -- 25% smaller if you claim at 62. If you want higher monthly income, waiting to claim is a proven method of doing so, but it means giving up the opportunity to receive years' worth of smaller checks before you hit full retirement age.

In some cases, coordinating benefits between family members can boost your overall income from Social Security. Even with recent law changes, if one member of a married couple files for retirement benefits, it opens the door for the other to get spousal benefits on that person's work history. Knowing the ins and outs are tricky, but getting help to understand what you're entitled to receive can give you a bigger income than you imagined.

Build a portfolio of dividend stocks
Selena Maranjian: A great way to get income in retirement -- and even before retirement -- is via dividend-paying stocks. I'm still a decade or more away from retirement myself, but thanks to the dividend payers in my portfolio, I'm already seeing several thousand dollars magically appear in my account each year.

For retirees, dividend-paying stocks can generate significant income on a regular basis. (Most dividends are paid quarterly, though some arrive monthly, semi-annually, or annually.) And as long as the companies paying them are healthy and growing, you can expect to receive them without interruption -- in booming markets and bear markets alike. Better still, healthy and growing companies tend to increase their payouts over time, too.

Imagine that by retirement, you have $300,000 invested in dividend payers with an overall average yield of 3%. You could expect $9,000 per year in dividend income -- which, spread out, would amount to $750 per month, a quite useful sum. Plenty of strong companies sport yields higher than that, too, such as IBM, recently yielding 4%, Verizon Communications, yielding 5%, and healthcare REIT HCP, yielding 6%.

An easy way to get dividend income without having to select and monitor individual stocks is via a dividend-focused exchange-traded fund (ETF) such as the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF, which recently yielded 2.3%. It recently held 179 stocks, most of which were deemed by Morningstar to have "wide moats," meaning they have competitive advantages. The iShares Select Dividend ETF is another option, with a higher recent yield of 3.5%.

Start a small business when you retire
Jason Hall: If you're already retired, or if retirement is just around the corner and you want more income, your best option may be starting a business. After all, you've spent decades in the workforce building a valuable skill set and experience that is probably still a valuable asset. This is especially true if you worked in a specialized field, where your knowledge or expertise is harder to come by. 

If your work experience isn't particularly specialized, that doesn't mean you can't start up your own business -- there are a lot of businesses that are ideal for retirees looking for extra income, ranging from dog-walking or pet-sitting businesses to caring for the elderly, to housekeeping and handyman services. Furthermore, the Internet has opened up all kinds of possibilities, including making and selling items online. 

Not only can this put money in your pocket, there's a measurable benefit from the social interaction you'll get, as well as the sense of purpose that comes along with continuing to contribute to society. One of the things new retirees often struggle with is a lack of direction and a loss of social interaction. Starting a small business can not only be good for your pocketbook, it can be good for your well-being, too. 

Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. Jason Hall has no position in any stocks mentioned. Selena Maranjian owns shares of Health Care Property Investors, and Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool recommends Verizon Communications. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.