Many seniors are surprised to learn that Social Security won't replace their pre-retirement wages in full. If you're an average earner, you can expect your benefits to take the place of about 40% of your income. If you're an above-average earner, they might replace an even smaller percentage.
As of July of 2021, the average senior on Social Security was collecting about $1,557 a month in benefits. And while that's not a bad paycheck when you also have a robust nest egg to tap, it's not exactly generous in its own right.
In fact, if you were to look to Social Security as your only source of retirement income, you'd probably end up quite cash-strapped as a senior if you were paid the average benefit. And that's why it's important to do what you can to boost the monthly benefit you receive. Here are a few strategies that will help you achieve that goal and take home more money than the average senior.
1. Boost your earnings
The monthly Social Security benefit you're able to collect in retirement will hinge on how much money you earn during your 35 highest income-earning years -- so the more money you make, the higher your eventual benefit will be.
There are different ways you can grow your income. First, you can aim to boost your job skills so you qualify for more promotions and raises. Secondly, you can pick up work on top of your main job. As long as you pay taxes on your side hustle, that income will count for Social Security purposes.
2. Work longer
Many people wind up earning a lot more money at the end of their career than at the beginning, and chances are, you will, too. And so if you extend your career once your earnings really take off, you'll replace some years of lower earnings with higher earnings in your personal benefits formula. That will lead to a higher paycheck from Social Security down the line.
3. Delay your filing as long as possible
You're entitled to your monthly Social Security benefit based on your wage history once you reach full retirement age, or FRA. FRA is 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later.
However, you don't have to file for benefits at FRA. You can sign up as early as age 62, but you should know that for each month you file before FRA, your monthly benefit gets reduced.
On the flip side, for each month past your FRA you delay filing, , your benefit grows two-thirds of 1%. That means that on an annual basis, delaying your filing will boost your benefit by 8%.
Once you turn 70, you can no longer grow your Social Security benefit, so it doesn't pay to delay your filing beyond that point. But if you're looking at an FRA of 67 and you postpone your filing until age 70, your benefit will rise by 24% -- for life.
Don't settle for the average benefit
If you want to collect a higher Social Security benefit than the typical senior, then you may need to make some sort of sacrifice. That could mean pushing yourself to take on a side gig on top of your main job to boost your earnings, extending your career, or waiting to file for benefits as long as possible.
The upside, though, is that once you snag a higher benefit, you'll attain more financial security for your entire retirement. And that's reason enough to make the effort.