Since you're paying into the Social Security program with your tax dollars throughout your working life, you deserve to get as much as you can in benefits once you retire. Here are three strategies you can use to maximize your monthly income. 

Woman looking at financial paperwork.

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1. Carefully consider when to claim benefits

Social Security retirement benefits can be claimed anytime starting from age 62, and the amount you get each month increases as you delay beyond that. You should think carefully about whether you want to get more checks (but smaller ones) starting at a younger age, or whether you prefer to delay and get larger (but fewer) payments over time. 

This is a complicated choice. A lot depends on when you decide to retire, what your health status is, and whether you're likely to live longer than your projected life span.

If you think longevity is in your future -- and you can afford to put off claiming benefits -- you'll likely want to wait until 70 to get your first check. (Benefits don't increase after that, so it makes no sense to wait any longer.)

If you wait until 70, it usually takes a little over 11 years to break even for the benefits you passed up between age 62 and 70. So if you live past 81 or so, you're likely to end up with more lifetime benefits.  

2. Optimize your average earnings

Social Security benefits are directly linked to the inflation-adjusted average earnings in the 35 years your income is the highest. Obviously, this means you don't want to work fewer than 35 years if possible and end up with a year or more of zero dollars being included in your average wage calculation.

But if you have some years early in your career when you didn't earn a lot and you have increased your income later in life (even after accounting for inflation), working some extra time could pay off. Each extra year you work at a higher salary will raise your average wage by replacing a lower-earning year in your benefit calculation.  

3. Decide what kinds of benefits make sense to claim

Lastly, you'll need to be smart about exactly what kinds of Social Security benefits you claim.

For example, if you become too sick or hurt to work later in your career, you might want to claim Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits rather than just getting retirement checks right at 62. You could keep your SSDI benefits until full retirement age, avoiding a penalty for early filing that you'd be hit with if you just went straight to receiving retirement income. 

You might also be eligible for survivors benefits if your spouse has died, or for spousal benefits that could be worth more than your retirement checks if your spouse was the higher earner. These benefits could even be available after a divorce as long as your marriage was at least a decade long. It's a good idea to check with your local SSA office to see what your options are and what you can expect to receive.

By looking into all the possible benefit sources, you can get as much money as possible out of Social Security so you'll have a more comfortable retirement -- and make the most of a program you spent decades paying into.