By James Royal, Bankrate, featuring Nick Strain, CFP®, CPWA®, CEPA®, AIF®, Senior Wealth Advisor

Social Security offers retirement income that can never run out, and would-be retirees have many smart strategies to max out their lifetime payout from the program. But they have quite a few ways to mess up their retirement benefits, too, from basics such as not following the rules or not planning to more complex screw-ups such as not exploring how to optimize your benefit.

Here are 7 ways you can really mess up your Social Security benefits.

How you can screw up your Social Security retirement benefit

Taking a cue from legendary investor Charlie Munger, sometimes the best way to succeed is simply to avoid doing things that are sure to cause failure. That same wisdom can be applied to claiming your Social Security benefit, and by avoiding the following pitfalls, you have a good chance at increasing your Social Security check or at least hurting your payout too much.

1. Not estimating your benefit before you retire

One of the most basic things to do when planning for Social Security benefits is to estimate how much you’re likely to receive from the program before you file for benefits. If you don’t know the size of your check, you can’t make a sensible decision about when to take your benefit.

It’s easy to check your estimated payout right on the Social Security website, and you just need to sign up for an account to do so. Plus, you can also verify your earnings history to be sure that Social Security has the correct amounts so that you do receive all you’re entitled to.

This Bankrate Social Security calculator can help you figure your benefit.

2. Filing too early

“Following the herd about misconceptions and fear-mongering about Social Security ‘running out of money’ creates fear that people will lose their Social Security benefit, so a lot of people elect to receive Social Security early at 62,” says Nick Strain, senior wealth advisor at Halbert Hargrove.

But filing for benefits at 62 – when you’re first eligible to do so – permanently hurts your payout.

“Starting Social Security at age 62 results in a 30 percent decrease from your full retirement age benefit,” says Strain.

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