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3 Social Security Secrets for Even Bigger Checks

By Selena Maranjian – Nov 21, 2021 at 5:24AM

Key Points

  • In general, the more you earn, the bigger benefits you'll get.
  • Delaying collecting your benefits will make them bigger, too.
  • Coordinate with your spouse for further benefit maximization.

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There are multiple ways to make your Social Security benefit checks bigger.

If you're counting on Social Security to provide much of your retirement income, do you know that the average monthly retirement benefit check was recently just $1,560? That's about $18,720 a year, and probably not as much income as you'd prefer in retirement.

Fortunately, there are ways to make those checks bigger -- especially if you take certain actions well before retiring. Here's a look at three ways to get more out of Social Security.

A person is smiling as they count a fat wad of cash.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Earn more

This one might be obvious, but earn more. Remember that the $1,560 average check is just the average. While half of beneficiaries collect less than that, half collect more -- the half that earned above-average incomes. Meanwhile, those who earned the maximum allowed throughout their working life, and who delayed starting to collect their benefits until age 70 will receive the biggest checks. For those who start receiving benefits in 2022, that maximum monthly benefit will be $4,194.

So think about how you might earn more, in order to beef up your future Social Security checks. You might take on a side gig or two for a few years -- or for many years. If you can find some side gigs you actually enjoy, it may not seem so troublesome. For example, you might do some freelance writing, or tutor kids online, or give language or music lessons. There are many possibilities.

2. Delay starting to collect your benefits

Another way to boost your benefits is simply to delay starting to collect them. As alluded to above, your benefit checks will grow bigger -- by about 8% per year -- for every year beyond your full retirement age that you delay starting to collect them. (Note that for most of us, full retirement age is 66 or 67.) So delay from age 67 to age 70 (the age at which you gain no more benefit by delaying), and you can make your benefits about 24% bigger.

Of course, while you'll get bigger checks, you'll get fewer of them over your lifetime, so delaying is not the right move for everyone. If you expect to live a longer-than-average life, though, and you can postpone starting to collect Social Security, it may be a smart move.

3. Collect spousal benefits

Finally, if you're married, there are additional benefit-boosting strategies. For example, if you've been a homemaker most of your life and haven't worked enough to expect much or anything in Social Security benefits, know that you may be able to collect meaningful benefits based on your spouse's earnings record. Follow the spousal benefits rules and you may be able to receive up to 50% of your spouse's benefits.

If you and your spouse have benefits coming your way in retirement, you might coordinate when each of you starts collecting them. One savvy move is to have the higher earner delay as long as possible (up to age 70), in order to maximize that benefit. Then, when one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse will be able to collect that bigger benefit, because survivors get to collect their own or their spouse's benefits, whichever is bigger.

These are a few ways to increase your Social Security benefits that not everyone may realize. Learn more about the vital program and you may be able to collect even more in your retirement years.

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