Social Security helps millions of seniors stay afloat financially in retirement. If you're counting on those benefits, you should know that the decisions you make during your career can affect your payout down the line. Here are just a few steps you can take to boost your benefits and get your hands on more cash in retirement.

1. Make sure you work for 35 years

Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on your highest 35 years of earnings. Therefore, if you work for less than 35 years during your career, you'll get a big, fat $0 factored into your personal equation for each year you fail to earn a paycheck. Of course, it's not unusual to take an extended break from the workforce, whether to raise children, care for a sick family member, or some other reason. But if you're nearing the end of your career and realize you've only clocked in, say, 33 years on the job, you may want to work a couple of extra years and replace those benefit-zapping zeros with an actual income.

An older man in shorts, black shirt, and denim jacket sits outdoors.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

2. Take steps to earn a higher salary

While making sure to work 35 full years will help you boost your Social Security payments, the more money you earn during that time, the more you stand to collect in retirement. So if you take steps to increase your salary, you'll benefit down the line.

How do you snag a boost in income? You can start by making yourself a more valued employee, whether by pursuing a certification or simply making an effort to build certain skills. But if that doesn't do the trick, then you may need to actually sit down with your boss and negotiate a raise. Now to pull off that discussion successfully, you'll need to research local salary data and see how your earnings stack up. You'll also need to be prepared to prove your worth to your manager in light of those numbers. But if you can pull off even a modest pay boost, you stand to collect more in Social Security when you're older.

3. Know your full retirement age

Though your Social Security benefits themselves are based on your earnings, the age at which you first claim them can cause them to go up, go down, or stay the same. That's why it's crucial to know your full retirement age, which is the age at which you're entitled to your monthly benefits in full. Unfortunately, it's estimated that only 26% of Americans are able to correctly identify their full retirement age, but without knowing that number, you might claim benefits ahead of schedule, thus causing them to shrink. It therefore pays to familiarize yourself with the following table, which will tell you your full retirement age based on your year of birth:

Year of Birth

Full Retirement Age

1943-1954

66

1955

66 and 2 months

1956

66 and 4 months

1957

66 and 6 months

1958

66 and 8 months

1959

66 and 10 months

1960

67

DATA SOURCE: SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION.

Remember, though you're allowed to file for Social Security as early as age 62, waiting until full retirement age will ensure that you don't lose out on a portion of the benefits you're entitled to.

4. Delay benefits as long as possible

While waiting until full retirement age will help you avoid a reduction in Social Security benefits, waiting past that age will help even more. That's because for each year you delay past full retirement age, you'll get an instant 8% boost in benefits, which will remain in effect for the rest of your life. This means that if your full retirement age is 67, but you decide to wait on benefits until 69, you'll collect 116% of what you were initially entitled to.

There's just one catch: The incentive to delay benefits runs out at age 70, so once you reach that milestone, you might as well sign up for Social Security. But if you're able to hold out as long as possible, you stand to enjoy a sizable increase in your monthly payments.

Boosting your Social Security benefits could spell the difference between managing your bills in retirement and perpetually struggling to keep up. It pays to learn more about Social Security to uncover different ways to make the most of your benefits. After all, you've earned them.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.