Whether you're thinking of claiming Social Security in 2021 or not, the moves you make in the coming year could dictate how much money you ultimately receive from the program as a senior. If your goal is to collect the highest benefit possible, here are three important steps to take.

1. Boost your earnings

The higher your paycheck in 2021, the higher your monthly Social Security benefit could be. Some people think that Social Security pays a single, universal benefit to all seniors, but that's not true. Your benefits are actually based on your personal wage history. The more money you earn at each stage of your career, the higher your payout stands to be.

Loose pile of Social Security cards.

Image source: Getty Images.

Of course, you can't just march into your boss's office next year and demand a raise in the hopes that it will eventually result in a higher monthly benefit. But you can boost your earnings by picking up work to do on the side. As long as you pay taxes on that income, it can count for Social Security purposes.

2. Delay your filing beyond full retirement age

You're entitled to your full monthly benefit based on your wage history once you reach full retirement age, or FRA. FRA is 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


Data source: Social Security Administration.

If you'll reach FRA in 2021, you may be tempted to start collecting benefits. But if you hold off on filing, you'll boost your benefits by 8% a year, up until you turn 70. That increase will then remain in effect for the rest of your life, giving you a more generous benefit to enjoy.

3. Delay retirement and work an extra year

We've talked about how Social Security benefits are earnings-based. More specifically, they're calculated based on your 35 highest-paid years in the workforce. If you don't work a full 35 years, you'll have a $0 factored into your personal benefits calculation for each year you're missing an income. The more $0s you have, the lower your benefit will be.

If you're thinking of retiring in 2021, pushing yourself to work even one extra year could make a huge difference if you don't have a full 35-year work history under your belt. Even if you did work for 35 years, if you're earning a lot more now than you did earlier on in your career, replacing a year of lower earnings with a year of higher earnings could help your Social Security benefits increase. There's much to potentially be gained by putting off retirement even a little bit.

In 2021, you have a real opportunity to put yourself in a position to score a higher monthly payout from Social Security. Don't pass it up. You'll probably rely on those benefits to pay the bills or achieve your retirement goals once you leave the workforce for good. It pays to do whatever you can to snag the most generous payday possible.