Even if you enter your golden years with a healthy amount of savings, there's a good chance you'll still depend on Social Security financially once you exit the workforce and the paycheck you relied on for so many years disappears. As such, it pays to do everything in your power to avoid losing benefits, and here's how to do just that.

1. Don't file before full retirement age

The monthly Social Security benefit you're entitled to collect in retirement will be based on your average monthly earnings, indexed for inflation, during your 35 highest-paid years in the workforce. But you can only claim that benefit in full once you reach full retirement age (FRA). Here's what that age looks like:

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 or later

67

Data source: Social Security Administration. 

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will let you sign up for benefits as early as age 62, so the temptation to file sooner than FRA is clearly there. But if you start collecting benefits prior to FRA, they'll be reduced by 6.67% a year for the first three years you file early, and then by 5% a year for each year thereafter. This means that filing two years early will cause you to lose out on 13.34% of your monthly benefit. And in a most extreme scenario, filing at 62 with an FRA of 67 will result in a 30% hit. As such, it pays to wait until at least FRA to file for Social Security.

Older man sitting in armchair

Image source: Getty Images.

2. But don't file later than age 70

Just as you're allowed to claim Social Security before FRA, you can also hold off past that point. For each year you delay your benefits, you'll accrue credits that increase them by 8% a year. That's a sizable boost, and one worth going after.

But once you turn 70, those credits can no longer be racked up, and so there's no sense in delaying your filing past that point. In fact, if you wait too long to claim benefits, you'll wind up losing out on Social Security income that could've been yours.

The SSA will pay up to six months of retroactive benefits so that if, for example, you forget to file at age 70 but sign up by 70 1/2, you'll get back the money you should've been collecting over the past half year. But if you hold off for too many months, or, worse yet, years, you'll forgo money you were entitled to.

3. Check your annual earnings statements

Each year, the SSA issues workers an earnings statement that summarizes their taxable wages and includes an estimate of their retirement benefits. Though both points are important, you should pay close attention to the former, because if the SSA is missing income for you on record, it could cause your benefits to shrink.

If you're 60 or older, you'll get your earnings statement in the mail every year. If you're younger, you'll need to create an account on the SSA's website to access yours. But pay attention to the information the SSA has on file, and make every effort to correct mistakes that work against you.

Social Security could end up being a key piece of your personal retirement income puzzle. Do everything you can to avoid losing out on benefits so you don't wind up struggling financially when you're older.