Social Security can be a complicated topic, but if you expect to depend on your benefits at all in retirement, it’s important to at least understand the basics.

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The more you know about how the Social Security program works, the easier it will be to maximize your monthly checks. And by understanding these three concepts, in particular, you’ll be able to make the most of your benefits in retirement.

1. Full retirement age

Your full retirement age (FRA) is perhaps the most important Social Security concept to understand, because it has a direct effect on how much you receive each month. If you were born in 1960 or later, you have a FRA of 67 years old. For those born before 1960, your FRA is either 66 or 66 and a certain number of months, depending on the exact year you were born.

Your FRA is the age at which you’ll receive 100% of the benefit amount you’re theoretically entitled to. If you claim before that age (as early as age 62), your monthly checks will be reduced by up to 30%. But if you wait until after your FRA to file for benefits (up to age 70), you’ll receive your full benefit amount plus up to 32% extra each month.

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In general, once you start claiming, your benefit amount won’t change (except for annual cost-of-living adjustments). That means it’s especially important to choose wisely when deciding when to claim benefits, because you’ll be stuck with this benefit amount for the rest of