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3 Popular Ways to Maximize Your Social Security Benefit

By Maurie Backman - Jun 3, 2021 at 7:36AM

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Want more out of Social Security? Here's how to get it.

The average senior on Social Security today collects $1,543 a month. Now, combined with withdrawals from a retirement plan or ongoing payouts from a pension, that could make for a very nice lifestyle.

But many people don't retire with a lot of money or collect pension income, and if you're behind in savings, then it's especially crucial that you get as much money out of Social Security as possible. Here are three popular ways to do just that.

1. Work for at least 35 years

Your Social Security benefit is calculated based on how much you're paid during your most profitable 35 years on the job. But what that also means is that if you don't work a full 35 years, you'll have a figure of $0 factored into your personal benefit equation for each year you're without income.

A good way to boost your benefit, therefore, is to make sure to put in at least 35 years in the labor force. Those years don't have to be consecutive, and gig and freelance work count, so there's a fair amount of flexibility there. Also, if you're nearing the end of your career and can't continue working full time, part-time work also counts.

Social Security card

Image source: Getty Images.

2. Boost your earnings with side income

You can try to grow your job skills and go after promotions at work, but at some point, your wages might stagnate despite your best efforts. However, the more money you earn during your career, the higher your Social Security benefit can be. That's why it could pay to boost your income with a second job, whether it's consulting in your full-time field on the side, starting a crafting business, or driving for a rideshare company.

3. Delay filing until age 70

You're entitled to your full monthly Social Security benefit, based on your wage history, once you reach full retirement age. That age isn't universal; it's based on your year of birth, as follows:

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.

You don't have to claim benefits at your precise full retirement age. The Social Security Administration will allow you to file as early as age 62, but doing so will reduce your benefit in the process.

On the other hand, if you delay your filing past full retirement age, your benefit will get an 8% increase for each year you hold off on claiming it (or about 2/3 of 1% per month), up until you turn 70. This means that if your full retirement age is 67, you can boost your benefit by up to 24%. Oh, and that increase also remains in effect for the rest of your life, guaranteeing you a higher income stream throughout retirement.

Whether you wind up relying heavily on Social Security as a senior or you use your benefits to supplement other income streams, it pays to get the most out of the program. These tips could be your ticket to a more generous benefit -- and more financial freedom later in life.

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