There's a good chance you'll rely on Social Security to cover your living expenses when you get older to some degree. As such, you can't afford to slash your benefits needlessly. But if you fall victim to these traps, you could wind up with a lot less income -- and a lot more heartache.

1. Not working a full 35 years

Your Social Security benefits are based on your personal earnings history. Specifically, your highest-paid 35 years on the job are taken into account when determining what your monthly benefit will be. But if you don't manage to work a full 35 years, you'll have a $0 factored in for each year you're missing an income, thereby resulting in a lower monthly retirement benefit. It could therefore pay to extend your career a bit and replace some of those $0s with an actual income. This especially holds true if your earnings are much higher late in your career than they were at the beginning of your career.

Social Security card

Image source: Getty Images.

2. Not knowing your full retirement age

The full monthly benefit you're entitled to from Social Security will be yours if you wait until full retirement age, or FRA, to claim it. But if you file beforehand -- you can do so starting at age 62 -- you'll slash your monthly benefit for life. Now some seniors make the conscious decision to claim benefits ahead of FRA, but if you file early by virtue of not knowing your FRA, you may really regret it later. Therefore, consult this table to see when you're entitled to claim your benefit in full.

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



Data source: Social Security Administration.

3. Not checking your earnings statements for errors

Each year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issues an earnings statement that not only estimates your monthly retirement benefit, but shows how much taxable income you had for the year for Social Security purposes. But if your earnings statement contains an error that works against you -- say, a lower income than you actually earned -- then it could actually result in a lower retirement benefit. That's why it's crucial to check your earnings statement every year for accuracy. If you're at least 60, it should come in the mail. If not, create an account on the SSA's website to access it there.

4. Moving to a state that taxes benefits

Whether you'll pay federal taxes on your Social Security benefits will depend on what your total retirement income looks like. But whether you'll pay state taxes on those benefits will depend on where you move. There are 13 states that tax Social Security to varying degrees:

  1. Colorado
  2. Connecticut
  3. Kansas
  4. Minnesota
  5. Missouri
  6. Montana
  7. Nebraska
  8. New Mexico
  9. North Dakota
  10. Rhode Island
  11. Utah
  12. Vermont
  13. West Virginia

Of course, some of these states offer a low cost of living and other benefits, like access to great healthcare and a moderate climate, that you may enjoy during retirement. But you should be aware that these states tax Social Security so you can factor that into your decision.

Whether Social Security ends up supplementing your retirement savings or constituting the bulk of your senior income, you should still aim to get the most benefits possible. Keep the above points on your radar if you're worried about slashing your benefits, as avoiding them could be your ticket to a higher Social Security payday.