Social Security is a key income source for millions of retired seniors. And for some, it's their only income source. If you expect to rely heavily on those benefits when it's your turn to retire, you'll need to be smart about claiming them. Here are a few strategies that could boost your benefits for life.
1. Extend your career
Your Social Security benefits are based on your 35 highest-paid years on the job. But if you don't put in 35 years in the workforce, you'll have a $0 factored into your benefits equation for each year you go without an income.
Now many people take time off during their careers (to raise children, for example, or care for loved ones who can't get by without help). Thus, it's not unusual to be shy a few years of income in your benefits calculation. But if you're able to extend your career past your originally planned retirement date, you'll replace some of those $0 years with an actual income, thereby boosting your benefits in the process.
This strategy works especially well if you wind up earning much more toward the end of your career than you did in the beginning. Not only will you replace some $0 years with income, but a substantial one at that. Even if you have 35 years of wages under your belt, replacing lower-earning years with higher-earning years could boost your benefits substantially.
2. Fight for raises during your career
Most people who fight for more money at work don't necessarily do so for the purpose of boosting their Social Security income. Rather, they're more focused on increasing their present income to have an easier time paying the bills. But if you manage to snag some raises, you'll increase your wage base for Social Security purposes, thereby introducing higher numbers into your personal benefits calculation.
Of course, scoring raises is easier said than done, but one good way to do so is to constantly grow your skills and take on more responsibility at work. Being in tune with what your industry pays will also help ensure that you're being compensated fairly, so research salary data once or twice a year to make sure that your earnings are up to snuff. If they aren't, you'll be able to put that data in front of your boss to make a solid case for more money.
3. File for benefits at age 70
While your Social Security benefits are based on your earnings history, the age you file for them could cause that number to change, for better and for worse. If you file at full retirement age, you'll get the precise monthly benefit your earnings record enables you to collect. That age is either 66, 67, or 66 and a certain number of months.
The good thing about Social Security, however, is that you get the option to file over an eight-year window. The earliest age you can claim benefits is 62, but know that for each month you do so before full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced by a certain amount that differs based on how early you file.
On the other hand, you also have the option to delay benefits until you turn 70. Though you won't be forced to file for Social Security at 70, there's no financial benefit to waiting past that point. But if you can hold out that long, you'll score an 8% boost in benefits for each year you hold off past full retirement age. For example, if your full retirement age is 67, waiting until 69 to claim benefits will boost them by 16%, while waiting until 70 will result in a 24% increase. Best of all, the higher monthly benefit you lock in by delaying Social Security will be the amount you collect for the rest of your life.
Increasing your Social Security benefits could spell the difference between just getting by in retirement and having more financial flexibility during your golden years. It pays to read up on Social Security and how it works so that you can adopt additional strategies to get the most money out of the program as you can.