Retirement is supposed to be a time when you can relax and live a carefree lifestyle. But many older adults face financial struggles well into retirement, which can put a damper on your senior years.
Social Security benefits can make retirement more affordable, but the average retiree only collects around $1,657 per month, according to the Social Security Administration.
Fortunately, you have a lot of control over how much you receive from Social Security. With these four strategies, you can potentially boost your benefit amount by hundreds of dollars per month.
1. Work longer
The Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates your benefit amount by taking an average of your income over the 35 highest-earning years of your career. If you haven't worked 35 full years by the time you file for benefits, that will reduce the size of your payments.
Even if you have worked for at least 35 years, extending your career by a few more years can still result in larger checks.
There's a good chance that you're earning a higher salary now than you were 35 years ago. Because the SSA only counts your highest-earning years toward your average, working a few more years now when your income is higher can result in a larger benefit amount.
2. Increase your income
If you can't, or would prefer not to, work longer, increasing your income can also boost your benefits.
In 2022, the maximum income subject to Social Security taxes is $147,000 per year. The more you're earning up to that limit, the more you can receive in benefits. Even a small increase in income can add up to more than you might think, so if you're able to boost your earnings, it could pay off down the road.
3. Delay benefits
One of the biggest factors affecting your benefit amount is the age you begin claiming Social Security. You can file for benefits as early as age 62, but by delaying a few years, you could earn substantially larger checks.
For example, say you have a full retirement age (FRA) of 67 years old -- this is the age you'll receive the full benefit amount you're entitled to based on your work record. Let's also say that by claiming at this age, you'll receive $1,500 per month.
If you were to file at age 62, your benefits would be permanently reduced by 30% -- leaving you with $1,050 per month. On the other hand, if you were to delay benefits until age 70, you'd receive your full benefit amount plus an additional 24% per month, or $1,860 per month.
4. Claim all the benefits you're entitled to
Retirement benefits are the most common form of Social Security, but you could be eligible for other types as well, such as spousal, divorce, or survivors benefits.
Spousal benefits and divorce benefits are sometimes available to those who are currently or previously married to someone entitled to Social Security. In both cases, the maximum you can receive is 50% of the amount your spouse (or ex-spouse) qualifies for at FRA.
Survivors benefits are usually reserved for widows and widowers, but they're also sometimes available to parents, children, ex-spouses, and other family members who were financially dependent on someone who passed away. How much you could receive in survivors benefits depends on your unique situation, so it's best to contact the SSA to find out if you qualify.
Social Security benefits can be a significant source of income for many retirees, and the right strategy can help you maximize them. By making the most of Social Security, you can enjoy a more comfortable and financially secure retirement.