Want to earn an extra $484 per month from Social Security? Here's how

Retirement planning amid coronavirus crisis

Barron’s senior writer Reshma Kapadia and Barron’s Roundtable discuss how coronavirus upended some people’s retirement plans and what can be done to make up for that lost capital.

Roughly 46 million retirees currently collect Social Security benefits, and those monthly checks often play a significant role in their retirement. A whopping 88% of U.S. adults believe Social Security benefits will be either a major or minor source of income, a Gallup poll revealed.

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If you're going to be relying on your benefits in retirement, it's wise to make sure you're collecting as much as possible. And there's one way you can boost your benefit amount by nearly $500 per month.

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How age affects the size of your checks

Your benefit amount isn't set in stone, and you can receive smaller or larger checks by claiming earlier or later. The majority of Americans claim as early as possible at age 62, according to a report from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, and very few (just 2% of men and 4% of women) wait until age 70 to file for Social Security benefits.

However, waiting a few years to collect benefits can boost your monthly checks substantially — sometimes by hundreds of dollars per month.

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The average beneficiary receives $1,514 per month, according to the Social Security Administration. If you have a full retirement age of 66 years and you'd collect $1,514 per month by claiming at that age, you could boost your benefits by 32% each month by waiting until age 70 to file. That amounts to an additional $484 per month for the average Social Security recipient.

If you have a full retirement age of 67 years old, you won't collect quite so much by waiting. If you wait until age 70 to begin claiming, you'll receive an extra 24% each month, which would amount to an additional $363 per month.

Why delay benefits?

Waiting a few years to begin collecting benefits takes some serious willpower, and it may not be the most appealing strategy if you're eager to retire. However, the extra cash you can receive by delaying benefits can make for a more enjoyable retirement.

Retirement can be incredibly expensive, and if your savings are falling short, you'll either need to learn to live on less or find another source of income. Slashing your expenses in retirement is an option, but many people might not want to be pinching pennies during their senior years. Likewise, not everyone will like the idea of continuing to work in retirement just to pay the bills.

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Delaying benefits is a relatively easy way to boost your benefits by hundreds of dollars per month, and that money can go a long way. Although you may need to postpone retirement by a few years if you delay benefits, it may be worth it to achieve financial security.

One other thing to keep in mind is that once you start claiming Social Security, your benefit amount is generally locked in for life. That means if you delay benefits and earn those bigger checks, you'll receive more money each month for the rest of your retirement. So even if you do have a relatively strong stash of savings but you expect to live a long life, those larger checks can help you afford a more comfortable lifestyle after your retirement fund runs dry.

Creating a strategy to maximize your benefits

Because Social Security benefits are such an important source of income for millions of retirees, it's wise to ensure you're maximizing them. By delaying benefits until age 70, you could potentially receive hundreds of dollars more per month, which can help you enjoy retirement to the fullest.

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