Once paychecks stop because you retire, you need money from somewhere. Social Security is an important income source for most seniors because if you're eligible for benefits, the funds are guaranteed until you die.
So, how can you use Social Security to bankroll your retirement? Here are three steps to take.
1. Be realistic about what Social Security can do
The first and most important part of your plan to have a secure retirement with Social Security is to realize your benefits alone aren't going to cut it.
Most people replace around 40% of pre-retirement income with their Social Security checks. Unless you think you can easily take a 60% pay cut -- which most financial experts don't believe is possible -- you're going to need supplementary funds from other sources.
So, while you can (and should) try to get the most you can out of Social Security, you also need a plan to bring in money from other sources. For most people, that means investing in a 401(k), IRA, or other retirement savings account.
2. Increase your earning power
Although you can't live on Social Security alone, your decisions throughout your life have a big impact on how much money these benefits actually provide. In fact, if your goal is to max out your retirement checks, you'll want to be sure you're focused on increasing your income and earning as much as possible in as many years as possible.
Your Social Security benefits are based on a percentage of inflation-adjusted average wages in the 35 years you make the most money. So, look for ways to bring in extra cash early in your career as you can and try to increase your earning power by asking for promotions or raises and being on the lookout for better job opportunities.
If you've managed to increase your earnings over time, you should also consider working longer at your higher-paying job. If you do, some of these higher-earning years can become part of the 35-year period used to calculate your benefits while pushing out some years when you earned less, so these lower-earning years don't drag down your average wage.
3. Rack up your delayed retirement credits
Finally, there's one more thing you can do later in life that's going to make a big impact on how far your Social Security benefits go. You can wait to claim them. You're first eligible to start Social Security checks at the age of 62. However, for every year you delay the start of your checks until 70, you end up increasing the amount of money coming in.
You have a designated full retirement age, which depends when you were born. If you start checks before it, benefits shrink -- as much as 30% if you get your first payment at 62 when your FRA is 67. If you delay, on the other hand, it's possible to increase benefits for each month you wait until 70. So, you can raise payments by as much as 24% if you have an FRA of 67 and you wait.
Delaying filing for benefits as long as possible ends up being the best choice for most seniors, even though that means missing some checks early on. So, consider delaying if it's possible for you.
By taking these steps, you can hopefully ensure Social Security benefits give you plenty of money to live on, along with the savings you've set aside for your future.