You may not put much thought into Social Security until you retire and realize how important a role those benefits start to play in your finances. But either way, your goal should be to get as much money from Social Security as you possibly can, and you can achieve it via these rules.

1. Don't file early

You're entitled to your full monthly Social Security benefit, based on your earnings history, once you reach full retirement age, or FRA -- which is not a single age, but rather, a range, depending on the year you were born:

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


Data source: Social Security Administration.

You're allowed to sign up for Social Security as early as age 62, but for each month you file ahead of FRA, your benefits will be reduced on what's generally a permanent basis. If you're worried about slashing your benefits, commit your FRA to memory and make sure not to file before you reach that age.

Incidentally, you also get the option to delay benefits past FRA. For each year you do, you'll boost them by 8%, up until you turn 70.

Smiling older man and woman reading a magazine

Image source: Getty Images.

2. Don't retire early

It's possible to leave the workforce early without actually claiming benefits. If you have a healthy level of retirement savings, for example, you may be able to dip into your IRA or 401(k) to pay your bills without having to resort to filing for Social Security.

But retiring early could cut your benefits in another way. Your benefits are calculated based on your 35 highest years of earnings in your lifetime, but for each year you're missing income, you'll have a $0 factored into your personal benefits calculation. If you retire early, you may only end up working 32 or 33 years, so before you pull the plug on your career, see how many years of earnings you actually have under your belt.

3. Don't wait too long to sign up

There are plenty of good reasons to delay your Social Security filing until 70. If you don't have much in the way of retirement savings, holding off on claiming benefits is a great way to compensate, because you'll get a boost to your Social Security income that will remain in effect for the rest of your life. But while signing up at age 70 often makes sense, signing up past that point does not.

The delayed retirement credits you accrue by claiming Social Security past FRA stop accumulating once you turn 70, so there's no financial sense in filing past that point. In fact, you actually stand to lose money if you wait too long to file.

The Social Security Administration will pay you up to six months of retroactive benefits so that if you forget to sign up at 70 on the nose but file by 70 1/2, you won't be short any money. But if you file at 71, you stand to lose out on half a year's worth of benefits for no good reason.

Even if you don't end up needing Social Security to cover your bills when you're a senior, you should still aim to secure as much money from it as you can to enjoy retirement to the fullest. Be sure to avoid the above blunders -- your financial well-being depends on it.