Millions of retirees depend on Social Security to stay afloat financially. Whether you're close to retiring or years away from that milestone, the moves you make in the coming year could improve your benefits. Here are three things you can do to boost your Social Security payments.
1. Hold off on filing
If you were born in 1953, then 2019 is the year in which you'll reach your full retirement age for Social Security purposes. This means that if you file upon turning 66, you'll get the precise monthly benefit your work record entitles you to.
That said, you're not required to claim benefits as soon as you reach full retirement age. If you delay benefits past that age, you'll grow them by 8% a year automatically up until you turn 70, at which point the incentive to wait runs out. Therefore, if you're turning 66 in the coming year but hold off on Social Security all the way until 70, you'll wind up collecting 132% of your original monthly benefit once you finally file. If your earnings record would've otherwise given you $1,500 a month for filing at full retirement age, filing at 70 will increase that to $1,980 -- for life.
2. Fight for a raise
We just learned that the age at which you file for Social Security can impact your monthly benefit payments. But those benefits are initially calculated based on your earnings -- specifically, your highest 35 years of earnings. Therefore, the more money you make each year, the more you stand to collect from Social Security when you're older.
That's why it really pays to fight for a raise in the coming year. An estimated 66% of workers who ask their employers for more money are successful, reports job site CareerBuilder. So if you approach that conversation strategically, there's a good chance it'll result in not just an immediate income boost, but a boost in benefits down the line.
To come out a winner in raise negotiations, go into that conversation knowing exactly what you're worth. Dig up data that proves what the going rate is for your job title and show your manager that your employer can do better. At the same time, prepare a list of ways you specifically add value to your company so your boss is motivated to advocate on your behalf.
3. Report errors on your earnings record
The more you earn during your career, the higher your Social Security benefits stand to be. But if the Social Security Administration (SSA) has incorrect information about your earnings history on file, your benefits could end up nosediving in the process. So it's crucial to review your annual Social Security earnings statements and report any errors you spot. For example, if your record lists your most recent annual income as $64,000 when it was in fact $74,000, that's an error that could hurt you when your benefits are eventually calculated, so you'll want to get it fixed as soon as you can.
Keep in mind that the SSA won't mail you a copy of your annual earnings statement directly unless you're 60 or older. If you're younger than 60, you'll need to create an account on the SSA's website and access your earnings record there. If you do spot an error, report it immediately. At the same time, go back and review your statements from the past few years if you haven't done so already, since you only get three years, three months, and 15 days to correct errors following the year they're made.
The actions you take (or don't take, in the case of filing) during 2019 could set the stage for a lifetime of higher benefits down the line. Follow these tips in the coming year, and you'll be thankful once you're retired.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.