Social Security benefits can be a significant source of income for many retirees, but they were never meant to be your only source of income. In fact, these monthly checks were only designed to replace around 40% of your pre-retirement earnings.
Many older Americans, though, have no choice but to depend heavily on Social Security if their savings are falling short. In that case, it's wise to make sure you're doing everything possible to maximize your monthly checks. Here are four strategies that can help boost your benefits by hundreds of dollars each month.
1. Delay claiming benefits
The longer you wait to claim benefits (up to age 70), the more you'll collect each month. Depending on how long you delay benefits, you could receive significantly larger checks each month compared to if you'd claimed earlier.
The average benefit amount among retirees is around $1,500 per month, according to the Social Security Administration. Let's say your full retirement age (or the age at which you'll receive the full benefit amount you're entitled to) is 67 years old, and if you claimed at that age, you'd receive $1,500 per month.
If you waited until age 70 to file instead, you'd receive your full benefit amount ($1,500 per month) plus an additional 24% ($360 per month) for a total of $1,860 per month.
2. Work a few years longer
Your full benefit amount (or the amount you'll receive at your full retirement age) is based on your income throughout the 35 highest-earning years of your career. If you claim benefits before you've worked a full 35 years, your benefit amount will be smaller.
But even if you have worked 35 years, working a little longer could further increase your benefit amount. There's a good chance that your income now is higher than what you were earning 35 years ago. And because your benefit amount is based on an average of your highest-earning years, continuing to work when your wages are higher could result in larger Social Security checks.
3. Increase your income
Because your benefit amount is based on your earnings, the higher your income, the more you could potentially receive in benefits.
For example, say you're 62 years old and plan to start collecting Social Security now. Let's also say your current income is $50,000 per year. Based on this information, your estimated benefit amount would be around $1,039 per month.
However, let's say that instead of earning $50,000 per year, you're currently earning $55,000 per year. In that case, your benefit amount would be roughly $1,102 per month, all other factors remaining the same. That may not seem like much of a difference, but the more you're able to boost your income, the more you'll collect from Social Security.
4. Claim all the benefits you're entitled to
Retirement benefits are the most common form of benefits, but you may be entitled to other types of Social Security as well.
If you're married to someone (or divorced from someone) eligible for Social Security, for example, you may qualify for spousal or divorce benefits. In both cases, the maximum amount you can receive is 50% of the amount your spouse (or ex-spouse) is entitled to at his or her full retirement age.
Even if you're already eligible for benefits based on your own work record, you could receive an additional amount in spousal or divorce benefits.
For instance, say you're entitled to $800 per month in benefits based on your own record, and your spouse is eligible for $2,000 per month at his or her full retirement age. The most you can receive is 50% of that amount, or $1,000 per month. So you would continue collecting your $800 per month plus an extra $200 per month in spousal benefits.
Making the most of Social Security
Social Security benefits can go a long way toward helping you enjoy a more financially secure retirement. By taking these steps to boost your benefits, you can potentially collect hundreds of dollars more each month and head into retirement as prepared as possible.