9 Ways to Boost Your Social Security Benefits

You may be entitled to more than you think

Workers contribute to the Social Security fund through payroll taxes over a lifetime of work, so you might as well make the most of your benefits. This article contains nine ways you may be able to boost your Social Security benefits.

Key Takeaways

  • Retirees can boost their Social Security with a few key strategies.
  • Wait to retire until full retirement age (FRA).
  • Delay applying until age 70 and you’ll get your maximum amount.
  • If you work while getting benefits, make sure you don’t run into the earned-income limits that will reduce your benefits.
  • If eligible, don’t overlook spousal, dependent, or survivor benefits.

Strategies to Boost Your Benefits

There are steps that you can take that will go a long way toward helping you maximize your Social Security retirement benefits. You can use a combination of some of the following strategies, some of which have eligibility requirements:

  • Work for 35 years
  • Wait until at least full retirement age to start collecting
  • Collect spousal benefits
  • Receive dependent benefits
  • Keep track of your earnings
  • Watch out for tax-bracket creep if you’re still working
  • Apply for survivor benefits
  • Check Social Security statement for mistakes
  • Stop collecting benefits temporarily

Please note that the Social Security Administration periodically increases Social Security benefits called a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), which adjusts for rising prices (or inflation). In 2023, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries will receive a 8.7% COLA. The estimated average monthly benefit for retired workers will rise to $1,827 in 2023.

Below are the nine ways to help boost Social Security benefits.

1. Work for 35 Years

You can be eligible for Social Security benefits after working for as little as 10 years, and you can begin receiving benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. Your benefit amount is based on the average of your 35 highest-earning years. If you work for fewer years, those zeros are averaged in.

As your benefit is based on your highest-earning years, the more you earn, the higher your benefit. There are limits, though. The maximum benefits for 2023 are $2,572 for those retiring at age 62, $3,506 for those retiring at the full retirement age of 66, and $4,555 for those retiring at age 70.

2. Wait Until at Least Full Retirement Age

As you can see from the maximum levels above, you can retire as young as 62 and collect Social Security, but your benefits will be reduced by 25% to 30%. For everyone born after 1942, the full retirement age is 66, with two months added for each year after 1954. For those born in 1960 and after, it is age 67.

It’s wise to wait until the full retirement age to start collecting to get the highest amount you’re eligible to receive. If it makes sense for your life situation, you can wait even longer and become eligible for delayed retirement credits that increase your monthly payment.

If you wait until you're 70 instead of 62 to collect benefits, you'll get an extra 8% a year. When you reach 70, the increases stop.

3. Sign Up for Spousal Benefits

If you are married and have little earned income, you may be entitled to spousal benefits of up to 50% of your partner’s eligible amount. If you’re at least 62 years old and have a child in your care, you may be eligible to receive benefits through your spouse. The spousal benefit can be as much as 50% of the partner’s benefit, depending on when the partner retires.

Even divorcees are eligible. In fact, both parties in a divorce can claim spousal benefits based on the other spouse’s Social Security earnings. However, if you have remarried, you cannot collect your ex-spouse’s benefits.

4. Receive a Dependent Benefit

If you are retired but still have dependents under age 19, they are entitled to up to 50% of your benefit. This dependent benefit doesn’t decrease the amount of Social Security benefits that a parent can receive. They are added to what the family receives.

5. Monitor Your Earnings

If you continue to work after your Social Security payments begin, keep track of your earnings to ensure they don’t exceed the allowed limit. For 2022, the limit on earned income is $19,560 for recipients below full retirement age (FRA) and $51,960 in the year when you reach full retirement age. For 2023, those numbers rise to $21,240 for those below FRA and $56,520 for the year they reach it.

Your benefit payment is reduced for the year if you exceed these limits. After you have achieved FRA, however, there is no penalty for earned income at any level.

6. Watch for a Tax-Bracket Bump

If you’re still working while receiving benefits, you also have to watch out for tax-bracket creep. Your earnings plus Social Security could put you up a notch in the tax table. If you earn enough more income, of course, the bracket bump-up may not matter compared to the additional cash.

7. Apply for Survivor Benefits

If your deceased spouse (or ex-spouse) was eligible for a higher Social Security payment than you are, you might be eligible for that higher survivor benefit. You might qualify for the higher benefit even if your spouse died before applying for benefits.

If you begin to collect Social Security benefits before you reach full retirement age, not only will you receive a reduced benefit, but after your death, your surviving spouse also receive less.

8. Check for Mistakes

You get a Social Security statement every year. Do not assume it is accurate. Check the numbers and report any errors to the Social Security Administration. Remember, your benefits are based on the average of your 35 highest-earning years. A miscalculation for even one or two of those years could impact your benefit for the rest of your life.

9. Change Your Mind

You may have the right to suspend your benefit, pay back the money you’ve already received, and start collecting benefits again later. You can do this as long as you’ve been receiving benefits for less than a full year.

This could happen if you get a job after you retire or inherit money and decide you can afford to delay filing to get a higher benefit check. You do this by filing Social Security Administration Form 521, Request for Withdrawal of Application. When you file again later, your benefit should be substantially higher.

The Bottom Line

Social Security benefits are a crucial part of retirement planning. You may be entitled to more than you think. Implementing a combination of some of the above strategies can help you boost your monthly check when you start claiming retirement benefits.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Social Security Administration. “Fact Sheet Social Security, 2023 Social Security Changes.

  2. Social Security Administration. “Retirement Benefits,” Page 1.

  3. Social Security Administration. “Your Retirement Benefit: How It’s Figured,” Page 1.

  4. Social Security Administration. “Workers With Maximum-Taxable Earnings.”

  5. Social Security Administration. "Benefits Planner: Retirement - Full Retirement Age."

  6. Social Security Administration. "Full Retirement Age."

  7. Social Security Administration. "Benefits Planner: Retirement - Delayed Retirement Credits."

  8. Social Security Administration. “Benefits Planner: Retirement - Benefits For Your Spouse."

  9. Social Security Administration. "Benefits Planner: Retirement - Benefits for Your Family."

  10. Social Security Administration. "Will Remarriage Affect my Social Security Benefits?"

  11. Social Security Administration. "Benefits Planner: Retirement - Planning For Your Survivors."

  12. Social Security Administration. "Replacement SSA-1099."

  13. Social Security Administration. "Benefits Planner: Retirement - Suspending Retirement Benefit Payments."

  14. Social Security Administration. "Request for Withdrawal of Application," Page 1.

Open a New Bank Account
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.
Take the Next Step to Invest
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.