5 Ways to Maximize Your Social Security Payments

In 2017, U.S. retirees received an average of $1,404 a month in Social Security benefits, which -- in the context of all our recurring expenses -- isn't really a lot of money. But while the government has a fixed formula for determining our monthly Social Security benefits, you may have more control over the size of your checks than you think.

Here are five things you can do to maximize your benefits.

1. Don't file for benefits until at least your full retirement age

Retiring early can be tempting, and many people choose to start taking their Social Security benefits at 62, which is the earliest age you can do so. But working until what the government considers your full retirement age (FRA) will significantly boost the size of your monthly checks. For people born in 1955, FRA is 66 years and two months. Anyone born after 1960 will have to work until 67 to receive what are considered "full" benefits. (You can find out exactly when you qualify for full benefits here.)

Claiming sooner reduces the size of your checks significantly. For instance, if you were born in 1955 and you started claiming benefits at 62 instead of waiting until your FRA of 66 years and two months, your monthly payments were cut by about 26%.

On the other side of the coin, you receive an 8% boost in your monthly benefits for each year past your FRA you delay claiming them. For example, if someone born in 1954 works for four years past their FRA of 66, their checks will be larger by 32%. (And possibly by an even greater amount, if those final years of work increased their average inflation-adjusted monthly earnings.)

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