As we all reach our retirement years, we must think about when to apply for Social Security benefits. It is best to form a plan ahead of time so you can maximize the money you bring in or decide if you need to withdrawal early in exchange for reduced payments. While the case will be different for each person, there are ways to increase your payments if you can afford to. Here are a few of the best ways you can plan to get the most out of your Social Security income. 

Work for a Minimum of 35 Years 

Social Security payments are determined on the 35 years of the highest pay you have earned, and if you manage to put in less time than that, your payments will significantly decrease. For each year you do not work, a zero is indicated in your wage’s history, which significantly brings down your average total income. If you can work for more than 35 years, it’s ideal, but planning ahead of time means doing at least that many to get the most out of your Social Security. 

Get a Higher Paying Job 

The more money you earn per year up to the maximum and contribute to Social Security, the higher your benefit payments will be. Even if you continue to bring in money after retirement, you can increase your Social Security payments if you happen to earn a higher salary than during your full-time working years. 

Don’t Claim Social Security Too Early 

While you might be able to begin Social Security in your early 60s, it is wise to wait until you’re eligible at your full retirement age before you start payments. If you can hold out until you’re 67 years old, you won’t run the risk of getting 25-30% less in benefits. Waiting even longer until 70 years old, will benefit you even more so, providing an extra 8% on top of your full benefit amount. 

It is best to avoid claiming Social Security benefits before reaching what is legally considered your full retirement age. Those who request to receive benefits prior to full retirement age will have their monthly benefits permanently reduced. Your full retirement age will depend upon what year you were born. Most workers reach full retirement age at 66 or 67. 

Now, you do have the option to start receiving benefits early at 62 years of age, but this will most likely reduce the full benefit amount you will receive. But there may be an upside to receiving benefits early. It is possible that your full benefit amount will actually increase if you continue working during these years of receiving early benefits. If your earnings, starting at age 62 and prior to reaching full retirement age, are significantly more than some of your lower earning years that were counted towards the 35 years used to calculate your benefit amount, your benefit amount may be more. This may also be to your advantage if you had some zero years but want to receive early Social Security benefits while still working. 

Be aware your benefits may also be reduced by taking benefits early depending on your particular circumstances. It is a good idea to consult a financial professional to determine if this option is right for you. 

Decide to Suspend Your Payments 

People between full retirement age and 70 years old can opt to suspend their payments to earn an extra 8% per year, up to four years. This gives your Social Security payments a potential boost of up to 32% if you can withhold from using that money up until then, but, on the other hand, it might be completely worth it to bank the extra cash. 

Payback Your Social Security Payments Until Later 

If you have decided to apply for Social Security before full retirement age and change your mind, you have a one-time opportunity to pay back the funds at no interest and apply at a later time when you’re older. This is a great way to plan for your future, as it gives you a chance to get more money per paycheck instead of paying early withdrawal fees. 

Estimate Your Life Expectancy to Plan When to Apply for Social Security 

Individuals who are ill or have a condition that may not allow them to live long into their golden years may want to plan on receiving Social Security payments as soon as they are eligible. However, suppose you’re healthy and have a family history of relatives living well into their 80s or 90s, then it might be best to wait on applying for Social Security until later on to receive higher payments.