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3 Things You Can Do Right Now To Score Bigger Social Security Checks Later

By Christy Bieber – Dec 2, 2021 at 9:00AM

Key Points

  • Maximizing Social Security requires you to act throughout your career.
  • You can take steps now to raise your monthly benefit.
  • You can also make decisions that allow you to keep more of your Social Security money.

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How many of them are you doing?

When you're still working, the days until you claim Social Security retirement benefits may seem far into the future. But it's worth thinking about how you can maximize these benefits throughout your career because the things you do now could affect the amount of income you'll end up with in your later years.

In fact, there are three steps you should consider taking as early as possible if you want Social Security retirement benefits to provide as much income as possible after you've left the working world. 

Person with finger to their lips as they look up at a thought bubble showing a bag of money.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Invest in a Roth instead of a traditional account

Currently, around 50% of retirees don't get to keep their entire Social Security check -- and that number is growing every year.

That's because retirement benefits are subject to tax after your provisional income reaches $25,000 as a single filer or $32,000 as a married joint filer. Depending how high your income is above these levels, you could end up taxed on up to 85% of benefits.

Provisional income, or the income used to determine if benefits are taxed, is calculated by adding up all your taxable income, some non-taxable income, and half of your Social Security benefits. Unfortunately, the thresholds at which your provisional income become taxable aren't indexed to inflation, so they don't go up. 

Since wages rise and Social Security benefits increase every year, more and more seniors will find themselves facing federal and potentially state tax bills on benefits, leaving them with less to live on. But investing in a Roth can help allow you to escape that fate.

Roth distributions aren't taxable income, they don't count in the provisional income calculation, and no matter how much you withdraw from them to live on, they won't result in your Social Security benefits becoming taxable. So, by choosing a Roth instead of a traditional account, you'll raise your Social Security checks by eliminating the taxes you'd otherwise have to pay on these benefits. 

2. Negotiate to increase income

Social Security benefits are based on the average income you earn during the 35 years in which you make the most money throughout your career. That means the higher your income, the higher your benefit.

Unfortunately, many people miss out on the chance to maximize their income because they don't advocate enough for themselves. If you don't negotiate your salary when you're first hired or during annual performance reviews, you may not get the full amount of earnings you otherwise would've received, and your Social Security benefits will end up lower because of it.

To avoid this, and to maximize the benefits you get, do your research into what you should be earning and come armed with facts that justify a pay bump -- then speak up for yourself and ask for more money when you get the opportunity. The more years you can earn a higher income, the bigger your benefits increase will be, so start doing this early in your career. 

3. Do some side work to get more taxable income

There's also another way to increase the income that determines your Social Security checks. Take on some extra work.

Doing a side job and paying Social Security taxes on the benefits can make a big impact on the wages that are used to calculate your benefit, and you could end up with a lot more money in your later years because of it.

By taking these three steps right now, you can start on the path to earning larger Social Security checks and building the financial security you deserve as a retiree. 

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