If you are within a decade of retiring, you definitely need to examine what your retirement “paycheck” will look like. This doesn’t mean that you’ll be expected to punch a time clock through your golden years, just that it can be helpful to think of your combined sources of retirement income as a paycheck you will get each month. While it may not be paying out as much in the future as it once did, Social Security will likely be an integral part of that monthly amount for most retirees. Not only will knowing what you will get help you make sure you have enough money each month in retirement, but by running the numbers on a few different sample dates, you can actually figure the best time for you to leave the workforce. Here’s how to estimate this crucial piece of your financial puzzle.
The simple answer: Use the Social Security online calculator
There are several factors that go into what your Social Security check will look like – income history, time worked, etc. – but you don’t need to worry about all that because there is a calculator to crunch the numbers for you. Visit www.ssa.gov/estimator and within a few minutes you will have projections for what your benefits will look like based on common retirement ages. Other than basic identifying information, all you will need is the total of your earnings for the previous tax year.
Given the current questions surrounding the long-term viability of Social Security, these estimates may not be as reliable for younger people, but those approaching retirement in the coming years can feel safer about the numbers being valid. If you want to try out a variety of retirement dates on your own to see what your benefits will look like, there’s a calculator for that too. Generally speaking, the longer you can wait to retire – up to age 70 – the more you’ll get each month from Social Security.
Where it can get a little more complicated
For the married, divorced, or widowed retiree with a higher-earning spouse, there may be additional options given Social Security allowing a person to claim up to 50% of their spouse’s benefit. A surviving spouse may also be able to receive a survivor’s benefit when the higher-earning spouse passes. Access a Social Security calculator from the AARP that allows you to factor in your spouse’s information.
You also need to keep in mind that these projections don’t figure in possible Medicare benefits that could be deducted from your Social Security check. Since many Americans currently have over $100 per month taken out of their Social Security every month, this amount is not insignificant.
Also be aware that none of these Social Security estimates are rock-solid guarantees. They are best treated as general approximations of the benefits – especially for those who are not close to retirement. The Social Security Administration recommends talking with one of its representatives before making your final decision on your retirement age.