When it comes down to it, there are two main ways to get higher social security benefits. The first is to make more money, because that means you are paying more into the system. The second is to delay collecting your benefits, which means that you will receive a higher payout.
Social security benefits are calculated based on the 35 highest earning years in your career. This means that if you want to collect the highest amount of social security that you possibly can, the first thing to make sure to do is work at least 35 years. If you have years where you pay $0 into social security, obviously that will have a huge impact on the benefits that you will receive. The other key is that if you have some low earning years at the beginning of your career, replacing them with higher earning years at the end of your career (once you hit the 35 year mark) will do a lot to improve your benefits.
Of course, earning as much as you can during those working years will help. If you do things like take a second job, or get a raise, that will increase the amount that you earn, which will have the added benefit of increasing your social security benefits later on. In a way, it is a double win.
The other way to get higher social security benefits is to delay as much as you can before you start collecting. To get the full amount that you are entitled to receive, you need to wait until you are 66 (or 67 if you are born in 1960 or later). If you start to collect before then, your payments could be significantly reduced. Even if you retire from your job before that age, waiting to collect social security will result in higher benefits.
If you delay until you are 70 years old, you will get an extra 8% per year beyond that full retirement age. So if you can hold out even longer, taking benefits starting at age 70 is the most optimal scenario, because that will result in a maximum benefit (there is no bonus for delaying until after age 70).
With savings rates in our country at an all time low, many people may be counting on social security benefits to last through their twilight years. If you find yourself in that boat, working at least 35 years, earning as much as you can, and delaying benefits as long as possible (up to age 70) will give you the highest possible social security benefits.