If there's one dangerous misconception about Social Security floating around, it's that those benefits are enough to sustain seniors by themselves. In reality, they generally don't come close.

Social Security will replace about 40% of the average wage earner's pre-retirement income. Most seniors, however, need around twice that amount of replacement income to maintain a decent standard of living. As such, relying too heavily on those benefits could make for a rather miserable retirement.

That said, if you're on the cusp of your golden years and don't have much of a nest egg, you may have no choice but to bank heavily on Social Security and hope things work out for the best. At the same time, it pays to make these crucial moves to get as much money out of those benefits as possible.

Senior man sitting on couch, typing on calculator while holding document; laptop is on table in front of him


1. Delay your filing as long as you can

Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on your earnings during your 35 highest-paid years of employment. Those earnings are adjusted to account for inflation, and a special formula is applied to arrive at your monthly benefit. Then, you're entitled to claim that benefit in full once you reach full retirement age. That age isn't the same for everyone; it's based on the year you were born, as follows:

Year of Birth

Full Retirement Age




66 and 2 months


66 and 4 months


66 and 6 months


66 and 8 months


66 and 10 months

1960 or later



But you don't have to claim Social Security at full retirement age, and if you delay your benefits past that point, you'll score an 8% boost in those payments for each year you hold off, up until you turn 70. This means that if you're looking at a monthly benefit of $1,500 at a full retirement age of 67, waiting until 70 to file for Social Security will boost your monthly income by $360, and your annual income by $4,320.

2. Push for a raise

The more money you earn on the job, the more you stand to collect in Social Security. Therefore, if you've held down the same salary for years, and are planning to spend a little more time in the workforce prior to retirement, it pays to fight for a higher wage. Doing so will put more money in your pocket immediately, but it'll also leave you with a higher income to be factored into your personal benefits equation.

Your chances of snagging a raise are highest if you can prove to your employer that you're statistically underpaid, so spend some time researching salary data. If you discover that you earn $8,000 less than the typical worker with your job title in your corner of the country, that makes a pretty strong case for more money.

3. Extend your career

If you're earning a lot more money at this stage of your career than you did earlier on, working a few years longer could very much make sense. For one thing, by retaining your paycheck, you'll have an easier time delaying your benefits and scoring more money from Social Security in the process. But also, if you replace a few years of lower earnings with higher earnings, you'll raise your benefits by having stronger numbers go into your benefits calculation.

4. Check your annual earnings statements for errors

Each year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issues workers an earnings statement. That statement summarizes your taxable wages for the year and also estimates your monthly benefits during retirement so you get a sense of how much income to expect. If you're at least 60, you'll get your statements in the mail; otherwise, you can access them on the SSA's website. It's important to review those statements for errors, because correcting mistakes could spare you a needless hit on your benefits in retirement.

Imagine the SSA has $28,000 of income for you on file during a year when you in fact earned $54,000. That's just a made-up example, but things like that can happen due to your employer providing the wrong wage data or your account getting confused with someone else's. Therefore, it pays to be vigilant about checking those statements, and if you spot a mistake, report it to the SSA at once.

In an ideal retirement scenario, Social Security wouldn't be your primary income source. But if you're nearing your golden years with minimal savings and you don't have a pension or other obvious income stream, then your best bet is to do everything in your power to get as much money from Social Security as possible.