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Here's How to Squeeze an Extra 24% Out of Social Security

By Selena Maranjian – Nov 19, 2021 at 7:25AM

Key Points

  • You need to know your full retirement age.
  • Delaying starting to collect your benefits can increase them by up to 24%.
  • Some people can increase their future Social Security benefits by 32%.

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You may be able to turn a $2,000 Social Security check into a $2,480 one.

Social Security is a vital program for older Americans. You may not fully appreciate it yet, but it lifts close to 10 million people out of poverty and provides 50% or more of retirement income for more than a third of older beneficiaries. It's likely to provide a lot of your retirement income, too.

You shouldn't just relax and expect to receive whatever Social Security sends you in the future, though, because there are multiple ways that you can increase your benefits. That's well worth doing, because otherwise, you may be surprised and disappointed in the size of your benefit checks: They recently averaged only about $1,560 per month.

Senior at a laptop, smiling excitedly with arms up.

Image source: Getty Images.

One of the most effective ways to beef up your Social Security checks is to put off starting to collect them. It can boost your benefits by up to 24%, or even 32% for some people. Here's a closer look at that strategy.

Your full retirement age is key

First off, you'll need to know your "full retirement age," which is 66, 67, or somewhere in between for those of us still working. That's the age at which you can start collecting the full benefits to which you're entitled, based on your earnings record. You can actually start collecting your benefits as early as age 62, though, or as late as age 70.

If you start collecting early, before your full retirement age, your checks will be smaller (but you'll get more of them), and if you delay, they will grow bigger (but you'll get fewer checks, overall). The table below shows just how much of your full benefits you'll receive, depending on when you start collecting.

Start Collecting at:

Full retirement age of 66 

Full retirement age of 67 

62

75%

70%

63

80%

75%

64

86.7%

80%

65

93.3%

86.7%

66

100%

93.3%

67

108%

100%

68

116%

108%

69

124%

116%

70

132%

124%

Data source: Social Security Administration. 

So to increase your checks by 24%, delay starting to collect your benefits for three years beyond your full retirement age. If that age is 66 and you delay for four years, you can increase your checks by even more -- by about 32%. Each year that you delay increases your checks by about 8%.

So when should you start collecting benefits?

Clearly, delaying can be powerful. But it's not the right move for everyone. For one thing, many people simply cannot afford to put off starting to collect. Many stop working earlier than expected due to a job loss or illness, and Social Security income may simply be necessary to keep them afloat.

Many others have a decent chance of living shorter-than-average lives, based on the lifespans of their relatives, and for them, starting to collect early can help them get the most out of Social Security.

Think about your own situation, as you decide when you should start collecting your own benefits. If you have many family members who lived to 90 and beyond, that's a promising sign for your own longevity. If you have sufficient financial reserves to support you while you delay starting to collect Social Security, or if you enjoy your job and plan to keep working until age 70, those are also good reasons to consider delaying.

It can also be smart to delay as long as possible if you're married and have earned significantly more over your working life than your spouse. That's because when one spouse dies, Social Security rules permit the survivor to collect either their own benefits or those of their spouse -- whichever are bigger. So maximizing your checks means your spouse, should they survive you, will be able to collect your big benefit checks.

The more you learn about Social Security, the smarter the decisions you can make about it -- and the more, overall, that you can wring out of the program. You've been paying into it for many years -- so try to get as much out of it as possible.

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