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3 Ways to Score a Higher Social Security Paycheck

You may or may not realize it, but Social Security is likely to be a major support for you in retirement. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), Social Security benefits make up about a third of elderly Americans' income on average. More specifically, about half of married elderly beneficiaries get 50% or more of their income from the program, while 70% of unmarried ones do. A meaningful number get 90% or more of their income from Social Security.

Even if Social Security, which recently paid average annual retirement benefits of roughly $18,600, only makes up 20% or 25% of your income, it will still play a significant part in your future financial security. So it's worth making those monthly benefits as fat as they can be.

Image source: Getty Images.

Here are three ways to increase your Social Security benefits:

1. Work longer

A first strategy to consider is simply working longer, which can pay off in multiple ways. For example, the formula used by Social Security to determine your benefits is based on the 35 years in which you earned the most (with your earnings adjusted for inflation). That means that if you work fewer than 35 years, one or more zeroes will be inserted into the calculations, bringing down your benefits. So aim to work for at least 35 years, if you can. Beyond that, if you've worked 35 years and you're earning significantly more now (on an inflation-adjusted basis) than you have in the past, consider working a few more years so each additional high-earning year will kick a lower-earning year out of the calculation.

Working longer is also a great move because it means you'll have more years in which to save and invest for retirement -- and your ultimate retirement nest egg will have to support you for fewer years. It can also mean that you get to stay on your employer's health insurance plan longer, before switching to Medicare.

2. Earn more

If you can manage to earn more this year and in years to come, you can end up boosting your future Social Security benefit checks. There are several ways you might accomplish this:

Take on a side job for a few years or many years.

You might work at a local retailer or restaurant for perhaps eight to 12 hours per week, or you might come up with a more enjoyable way to boost your income. For example, you might sell items you make online (think jewelry, soaps, sweaters, cutting boards, etc.) or you might do some freelance writing, editing, or design.

Be more aggressive about climbing your career ladder.

Ask for raises now and then -- and do so by making clear how you deserve them. You can also earn additional professional certifications or degrees that will qualify you for higher-paying jobs. Even joining Toastmasters and improving your public speaking ability can help.

Consider switching to a higher-paying career.

You shouldn't necessarily switch into any higher-paying occupation, but spend a little time doing some research into the possibility. There may be one or more alternate occupations that you would enjoy and that would pay more. If so, see how you could switch into them. That might entail taking courses on the side and learning some new skills, such as programming.

Image source: Getty Images.

3. Start collecting your benefits at the right time

Finally, know that while you can start collecting retirement benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70, when you start affects the size of your benefits. Start sooner and your checks will be smaller -- though there will be more of them. Delay, and your checks will grow bigger -- but you'll collect fewer of them. It's all a wash if you live an average-length life, but there are good reasons to start collecting Social Security early and good reasons to delay collecting Social Security.

The table below shows how much bigger (or smaller) your Social Security benefit checks will be depending on when you start collecting relative to your "full retirement age" (which is 66 or 67 for most of us):

Start Collecting at:

Full Retirement Age of 66

Full Retirement Age of 67




























Data source: Social Security Administration.

To put that table into perspective, consider that if your full retirement benefits at your full retirement age of 67 were $2,000 per month ($24,000 per year), starting at age 62 would shrink them to roughly $1,400 ($16,800 annually), while delaying until age 70 would boost them to about $2,480 ($29,760 annually). Those are big differences, but do remember that you'd get more of the smaller checks, and consider your health, likely longevity, financial health, and other factors when deciding the best starting point for yourself. Don't be afraid to consult a financial advisor, either -- you can find fee-only ones at

Because Social Security is (or will be) so important to most of us, it's very important to learn more about it and make decisions that help you get the most out of the program.

The $16,728 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook
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