Storyteller and entertainer Garrison Keillor is famous for his tales of Lake Wobegon, “where all women are strong, all men are handsome, and all children are above average.” Most of us like to think that we are above average in many ways – our looks, the way we drive, our IQ and more.
We can’t change some things about ourselves, like our IQ to be above average, but other things we can—and here’s a key example: Social Security benefits. The median monthly Social Security pension recently was just $1,661 a month, or about $20,000 a year.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to increase your benefits. Here are three.
1. Delay receiving your benefits
For starters, you can delay the start of payment of your benefits. Each of us has a “full retirement age” (FRA), which for most of us is 66 or 67 or somewhere in between. It’s the age when we can start receiving them fully Benefits to which we are entitled based on our proof of income. However, we can start collecting as early as 62 and not until 70.
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Start collecting early, and your checks will be smaller, but you’ll get a lot more of them, so starting early isn’t as bad as it might seem. For those in poor health or with a shorter expected life expectancy—or simply those who need more income as soon as possible—starting collecting early can make a lot of sense.
If you have a good chance of living longer than average and you can delay taking your benefits, they will increase by about 8% for each year past your full retirement age – up until age 70. So a delay from 67 to 70 years can increase those checks by 24%.
2. Earn more while you work
Next, aim to earn more. This $1,661 benefit applies to people on an average income. You only have to earn more than 50% of the beneficiaries to get a bigger check.
So think about ways to earn more. You can have a part-time job for a few years—or for many years. It doesn’t have to be a cramp either. You could drive and deliver food from restaurants to those who ordered them online, or you could give guitar lessons to local kids (assuming you know how to play the guitar). Freelance work, which you can find on online freelance marketplaces, is another option, as is making and selling crafts online.
Then there is your main job. Ask for a raise at least every few years. (And for the best results, you deserve one.) If that doesn’t work, or you don’t love your current job, look for another, better-paying one. You can even earn an additional qualification or degree to qualify for a better or entirely different type of job or career.
3. Work longer
Finally working longer. The formula that determines your Social Security benefits averages your earnings over the 35 years that you earned the most (adjusting for inflation, of course). So if you’ve only worked 30 years, when you stop working, five zeros are included in the calculation. Try to work at least 35 years.
Better still, if after 35 years of working you’re earning a lot more than you did before (again on an inflation-adjusted basis), consider working a few more years for each high-income year will eliminate your lowest-income year from the calculation.
These are some of many effective ways to increase your Social Security benefits. Take a look at which ones make the most sense to you, because a bigger check coming in each month (and even adjusted for inflation) will make your retirement years that much safer.
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