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3 Easy Social Security Tricks That Could Boost Your Benefits Substantially

By Maurie Backman - Mar 27, 2021 at 6:48AM

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Your path to getting more money in retirement benefits doesn't have to be complicated.

Social Security is a complex program that's loaded with rules, so you might think that to get more money out of it, you really need to be some sort of financial whiz. But actually, you don't need to spend weeks reading up on every single nuance to find ways to increase your benefits. There are a few simple, straightforward techniques you can use to increase the sizes of your monthly Social Security checks.

1. Delay filing for benefits beyond your full retirement age

The monthly Social Security benefit you'll be eligible for in retirement will hinge on your specific wage history, and you'll be allowed to claim that benefit in full once you reach what the government has designated as your full retirement age, or FRA. You can use this table to determine what your FRA is:

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.

That said, you don't have to claim your benefits at your FRA. You can sign up for Social Security when you're as young as 62 and start getting your money sooner. Doing that, though, means you'll take a reduction in the size of your monthly checks. Or you can delay your filing beyond your FRA and boost the value of those checks.

Smiling older man in front of fireplace

Image source: Getty Images.

For each year you hold off on claiming benefits past your FRA, they'll increase by 8%. This means that a $1,600 benefit at an FRA of 67 could become a monthly benefit of $1,984 if you file three years later.

Regardless, you should start collecting Social Security once you turn 70. Once you hit that milestone, delayed retirement credits  cease to accrue. But if you're able to hold off until 70, you'll snag significantly higher monthly payments for life.

2. Work for at least 35 years

Each person's Social Security benefits are based on their wage history -- but not necessarily all of it. The calculation begins by averaging your 35 highest-paid years of earnings, adjusted for inflation. This means that if you didn't work a full 35 years before you file, you'll have a $0 incorporated into that average for each year you don't have any earnings on record. And if some of those years were when you were young and working part time, those numbers will drag down your average.

The solution? Figure out how many years of work you have under your belt and try to extend your career so that your benefits calculation doesn't include any zeros. If, for example, you see you've worked 33 years as your 67th birthday approaches, you may want to keep at it for two more years.

Even if you have 35 or more years of work behind you, you could still benefit from waiting to retire. If your inflation-adjusted salary in your 60s is more generous than it was earlier in your career, taking the opportunity to replace some low-earning years with higher-earning ones will give a lift to your average annual income -- and your monthly Social Security checks.

3. Boost your earnings during your working years

The more money you make in the course of your career, the higher a Social Security benefit you stand to collect once you retire. As such, it pays to do what you can to grow your earnings.

Now there are different options to look at here. The simplest is to just give your job your all. If you're a solid employee, you may be rewarded with pay raises that reflect your hard work. Another option is to go after raises by continuously growing your skills and climbing the career ladder. Though promotions don't always come with a raise, they often do.

Finally, you can look at getting a side job in addition to your main one. As long as you pay taxes on that income, it'll count for Social Security purposes. So if your main job pays you $60,000 in a given year and you earn $10,000 on the side, you'll have an annual income of $70,000 factored into your benefits calculation.

And there you have it. You don't need to be exceptionally savvy to grow your Social Security benefits. With just a few simple moves, you can buy yourself added financial security for retirement.

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