Social Security keeps millions of seniors afloat financially. Whether you're relatively young and nowhere close to claiming benefits, or you're gearing up to file shortly, the following moves will help ensure that you get the most money from the program you possibly can.
1. Fight for a raise at work
Your monthly Social Security benefit is calculated by taking your average monthly wage over your 35 highest-paid years of earnings, adjusting that wage for inflation, and applying a special formula. As such, it stands to reason that the more money you make throughout your career, the higher your Social Security benefit will be.
That's why it's so important to fight for more money when you're underpaid, or to advocate for higher wages when there's clearly room for salary-related growth. Thoroughly researching salary data is your best bet in this regard, because if you're able to prove to your employer that the average person in your industry with your job title earns more than you, it makes a strong case for a pay boost.
But also, work on making yourself a more valuable employee, whether by volunteering for new projects, taking on tasks most of your teammates avoid, or boosting soft skills like time management and communication that make you better at whatever it is you do. Even a modest raise one year could pave the way to higher earnings throughout your career, and once that happens, your benefits stand to climb.
2. Check your annual earnings statement for errors
Each year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issues workers an earnings statement summarizing their taxable wages and estimating their monthly retirement benefit. You'll want to make sure the earnings figure the SSA has on file is accurate, because if it isn't, and it's less than what your income entailed, you could lose out on benefits down the line.
Remember, the SSA takes your specific earnings into account when calculating your benefit, so if it has the wrong information on file, you could end up losing out on valuable retirement income. Rather than let that happen, check your statement, and if you spot a mistake, contact the SSA at once and see what you need to do to correct it. Your earnings statement will arrive by mail if you're 60 or older. If not, you'll need to create an account on the SSA's website and access it there.
3. File for benefits if you're turning 70
The earliest age you can file for Social Security benefits is 62, and you're entitled to your full monthly benefit based on your earnings history upon reaching full retirement age. Full retirement age kicks in at 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on your year of birth, but if you delay your benefits past that point, you'll boost them by 8% a year.
This incentive, however, runs out once you reach the age of 70, so if you're turning 70 this year and haven't yet filed for Social Security, make plans to do so in conjunction with your upcoming birthday. The SSA won't compel you to claim your benefits, but if you don't file by the time you turn 70, you'll effectively give up money that could've been yours.
That said, the SSA will pay up to six months of retroactive benefits if you file after turning 70. But since there's no financial reason to delay past your 70th birthday, you might as well make those monthly benefits your gift to yourself.
You have several opportunities this year to make smart Social Security decisions. Capitalize on them, and you'll be happier for it in the long run.