Chances are, Social Security will play an important role in your retirement finances. As such, you probably want to get as much money out of it as possible. Here are a few ways to raise your benefits and set yourself up for a more financially secure future.
1. Work a full 35 years
Your Social Security benefits are calculated by averaging your wages during your 35 highest-paid years on the job, adjusting them for inflation, and applying a special formula to that number. But if you don't have a full 35 years of work under your belt, you'll have a $0 factored in for each year without an income. Rather than let that happen, extend your career to clock in a full 35 years of wages. This will be an especially beneficial move if you wind up earning a lot more later in life than you did earlier on.
2. Delay your benefits as long as possible
Once your monthly Social Security benefit is determined based on your earnings history, you're entitled to collect it in full once you reach full retirement age, or FRA. That age is either 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on your year of birth. However, if you delay benefits past FRA, you'll boost them by 8% a year in the process, up until you turn 70. Whatever increase you lock in will then remain in effect for the rest of your life.
3. Check your annual earnings statements for errors
Your Social Security benefits are based on what you earn, so if the Social Security Administration (SSA) has incorrect information about your income on file, it could bring your benefits down. How do you know what the SSA has on record? It's simple: Check your annual earnings statements. They'll show you what your taxable earnings for Social Security purposes look like each year and also estimate your benefits in retirement.
If you're 60 or older, you'll get your earnings statements in the mail. If not, you'll need to create an account on the SSA's website to access yours. But be sure to check that statement annually, because if the SSA shows less income on file than what you actually brought in, and you correct that error, your benefits could get a boost.
4. Fight for raises throughout your career
The more money you earn while working, the more money you stand to collect from Social Security. That's why it's important to fight for raises while you're a member of the workforce. That could involve spending the time to research salary data to get a sense of what your earnings should be like, and also, growing your skills to make yourself a more valuable, and therefore well-compensated, employee.
5. Retire to a state that doesn't tax benefits
You'll generally pay federal taxes on your Social Security benefits unless you're a low-income household. But if you avoid retiring in a state that taxes benefits, you'll get to keep more of that money for yourself. There are currently 13 states that tax Social Security income to varying degrees:
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
If you retire elsewhere, you'll avoid state taxes on those benefits, but keep in mind that the overall cost of living may be lower in some of the above states than in a state that doesn't take some of your benefits away.
A few strategic moves on your part could raise your Social Security benefits for life. And that's a good way to avoid financial stress at a time in life when so many seniors find themselves struggling.