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3 Unexpected Ways to Claim More in Social Security

By Maurie Backman – Nov 7, 2021 at 6:36AM

Key Points

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Want a higher Social Security paycheck? You may be surprised at how easy it is to get one.

The higher a Social Security benefit you start out with, the more monthly income you can expect to enjoy throughout retirement. And if you're behind in the retirement savings department, it especially pays to do what you can to boost your Social Security benefits.

Now you may be aware that delaying your filing beyond full retirement age will result in a more generous benefit. But here are some surprising ways you can achieve a similar goal.

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Image source: Getty Images.

1. Boost your total income with a side job

The Social Security benefit you're entitled to collect in retirement will hinge on how much you earn during your 35 highest-paid years in the labor force. But it's not just your income from your main job that counts in that equation.

If you work a side job, and you report your earnings from it to the IRS (which, let's face it, you're required to do), then that additional income will count toward your wage history as well. The result? More money from Social Security during retirement.

2. File for spousal benefits

It may be the case that you worked for many years but didn't have the highest earnings. Or, it could be that you earned a decent wage, but that your spouse out-earned you considerably.

Even if you're entitled to a Social Security benefit based on your own earnings history, if you're married, you can claim a spousal benefit in retirement instead of your own benefit. And that's a move that will make sense if your spousal benefit is higher.

Let's imagine that based on your own wage history, you're entitled to a monthly Social Security benefit of $1,000. If your spouse is eligible for a $2,400 monthly benefit, then by claiming a spousal benefit instead of your own, you can boost your monthly Social Security income by $200.

3. Check your earnings statement every year

Each year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issues workers an earnings statement summarizing their annual wages and estimating their future benefits. If you're at least 60 years old, that statement will come in the mail. If not, you can access it on the SSA's website (you'll need to create an account to view yours online). It's important to look through your earnings statement carefully, because if you spot missing wages, reporting that could result in a higher Social Security benefit.

Say there's a year in which you switched jobs, but only your second employer reported your earnings. If you're missing $40,000 in wages from that first job, that could result in a lower retirement benefit once all of your income is accounted for. Correcting that mistake could therefore raise your benefit up.

Get the most from Social Security

Even if you enter retirement with a respectable nest egg, you may still end up relying heavily on Social Security to cover your various bills. It pays to explore different strategies for getting more money out of Social Security so you can enjoy your senior years to the fullest and steer clear of financial stress.

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