When planning for retirement, it is important to know how much money you can expect to receive each month in Social Security benefits. Your Social Security benefits are based on your lifetime income and the age you retire.
Getting a realistic estimate isn’t that hard, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) provides plenty of options for finding out this information. You can look online, make a phone call or even wait to receive a statement by mail.
Start with the Social Security Administration website. It gives you the opportunity to create an online account so you can have direct access to your Social Security statement, including monthly estimates, whenever you want. Currently 16 million people have created accounts.
The website also has an assortment of free calculators so you can get an idea of your monthly Social Security benefits.
- First, try the SSA’s “Retirement Estimator.” It is the online calculator online that accesses your actual earnings record to estimate your Social Security benefits. To use this estimator, you need to have a minimum of 40 Social Security credits, a measure based on your work history. You also can’t currently be receiving benefits or be in the application process.
- If you just want an informal estimate, the SSA’s “Quick Calculator” gives you a rough estimate of monthly payments based just on your age and current earnings. You have to be at least 21 years old to use this calculator.
- The SSA’s “Online Calculator” provides a more accurate estimate. Because it doesn’t tap into your work record, you need to have a copy of your complete earnings record to enter into the calculator.
- There is also a special online calculator available to estimate benefits if you are eligible for a pension based on work that wasn’t covered by Social Security.
- Additional SSA calculators can be used to calculate disability estimates or survivor benefits. The SSA’s “Detailed Calculator” is a program that must be installed onto your own computer. It can be used to estimate any type of Social Security benefit.
- The website also has calculators that let you calculate your average life expectancy based on gender and birthdate as well as full retirement age required based on the year you were born.
If you aren’t comfortable using online calculators or setting up an online account, the Social Security Administration is available by phone to help with benefit estimates. That number is 1-800-772-1213.
If you do nothing, the SSA will mail most workers a statement every five years starting at age 25. The SSA stopped mailing annual statements in 2011 due to budget constraints, but it is resuming five-year mailings for workers who haven’t set up an online account.
Even once you have an estimate of your Social Security benefits, it’s important to check regularly as retirement approaches. For example, cost-of-living increases to Social Security could occur or your expected age of retirement could shift. Any estimate, however premature, can help you prepare for the future with an idea of what you can expect from Social Security in your retirement years.