Social Security is a vital component of most Americans' retirement budgets, but let's face it: The benefits are modest. The average monthly benefit in January 2023 was just $1,691. 

Worried that your benefit and your savings won't be enough to cover your retirement expenses? Try these tested strategies to increase your Social Security benefits.

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1. Boost your income

One thing Social Security's top earners have in common: They were high earners throughout most, if not all, of their working years. Your benefit is based on your highest 35 years of earnings, so increasing your earnings up to Social Security's wage cap -- which is $160,200 in 2023  -- will give you bigger checks someday.

Obviously, you can't just snap your fingers and turn a modest salary into $160,200 a year. But there are a number of ways to boost your earnings for Social Security's purposes, such as taking on a side gig, finding a better-paying job, or negotiating more pay at your current job. You could also work beyond 35 years and replace some lower-earning years with higher-earning ones.

2. Work for at least 35 years

A worker will generally qualify for retirement benefits if they've earned 40 work credits, which amounts to 10 years of full-time work. But since Social Security is based on your 35 highest-earning years, working fewer than 35 years will reduce your benefit. The years you didn't work will be counted as zeroes in Social Security's benefit formula, which will shrink your benefit.

3. Delay, delay, delay

When you need to squeeze more out of your Social Security checks, it pays to wait for as long as possible. To collect your full benefit, you'll need to wait until full retirement age, which is 67 if you were born in 1960 or later.

Though it's possible to collect benefits starting at age 62, your checks will be reduced by 30%. Meanwhile, for every year you delay past full retirement age, you'll get an extra 8% delayed retirement credit until you reach age 70. Your benefit maxes out at that point. Taking benefits at 70 versus 62 will increase your benefit by about 77%.

4. Look into spousal and survivor benefits

If you've been married or divorced, you may qualify for a bigger benefit through spousal benefits or survivor benefits. The maximum spousal benefit is 50% of your current or ex-spouse's full retirement benefit. (If you're claiming benefits as an ex-spouse, you'll need to have been married for at least 10 years and divorced for two years, plus you can't have remarried.)
You can receive up to 100% of your late spouse's benefit through survivor benefits.

Two important things to know: Though you'll reduce your benefits by filing early, you can't earn delayed retirement credits through spousal or survivor benefits. You'll collect the maximum benefit at full retirement age. Also, Social Security doesn't allow you to claim double benefits. You'll receive your own retirement benefit, or a spousal or survivor benefit -- whichever is bigger, but not both.

5. Get a one-time do-over

If you've already started benefits but you wish you'd held out for more money, you may be able to reverse your decision. If it's been fewer than 12 months since you claimed benefits, you can withdraw your application. However, you can only do this once, and you have to pay back all the benefits you received, in addition to money withheld from your benefit, like Medicare premiums.

Once you've reached full retirement age, you can also suspend your benefit. Then, you can allow those 8% delayed retirement credits to accrue. You can ask Social Security to restart your benefits at any time until you reach age 70. At that point, Social Security will automatically reinstate your benefit.