How to Increase Your Social Security Checks

These strategies will boost your retirement payments.

More than 56 million Social Security recipients will soon find out how much their monthly payments will go up next year.

More than 56 million Social Security recipients will soon find out how much their monthly payments will go up next year.

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Minimize Social Security taxes. Your Social Security payout may be taxable, depending on how much income you will have in retirement. If the sum of your adjusted gross income, nontaxable interest, and half of your Social Security benefits is between $25,000 and $34,000 ($32,000 and $44,000 for couples), income tax could be due on up to 50 percent of your benefits. If those three items total more than $34,000 ($44,000 for couples), up to 85 percent of your Social Security income may be taxable.

Maximize survivor's benefits. Widows and widowers are eligible for the higher earning spouse's full retirement benefit. The higher earner can maximize the benefit the surviving spouse will receive by waiting to sign up for Social Security. "If you want the maximum amount for the survivor, the higher earner should wait until age 70," says Brey.

[See 10 Places to Retire on Social Security Alone.]

Sign up for direct deposit. You'll get your Social Security payments faster and can avoid fees and a trip to the bank by having them directly deposited to a bank or credit union account. New Social Security recipients no longer have the option to receive their payments as paper checks through the mail, but must have their Social Security payments directly deposited into a bank account or loaded onto a Direct Express Debit MasterCard. Existing Social Security recipients have until March 1, 2013, to select one of these forms of electronic payments.

Make sure your work counts. The Social Security Administration began offering the option to view Social Security statements online on May 1, and one million people have already downloaded their statements. It's important to check your online Social Security statement annually to make sure your earnings history and Social Security taxes paid have been recorded correctly by the Social Security Administration. If you spot any errors, take steps to correct them while you have your current tax information handy. Make sure you are getting credit for the taxes you are paying into the system.