If you’re focused on saving for retirement, there’s something you may or may not consider adding to your calculation: your Social Security benefits. You pay into Social Security through your job or self-employment and can get these benefits when you hit retirement age. Read on to learn more about what Social Security is. How you can find your estimated Social Security benefits, and why it’s important.
What is Social Security?
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA) website, “Social Security replaces a percentage of a worker’s pre-retirement income based on their lifetime earnings. The portion of your pre-retirement wages that Social Security replaces is based on your highest 35 years of earnings. This varies depending on how much you earn and when you choose to start benefits.”
The program is designed to be supplemental and help you offset costs in retirement. It’s not designed to be your entire retirement strategy and in recent years there has been a lot of talk about Social Security benefits running out.
Obviously, we can’t predict the future, but it’s useful to find out what your estimated Social Security benefits are. Why? That way you can run your retirement numbers with Social Security and also without.
For example, it could mean saving much more money or working more years if Social Security isn’t available. But if it is, it could be a helpful supplement to the money you have saved.
How to find your Social Security benefits
I had read a while back that you could find out your estimated Social Security benefits on the Social Security Administration site. About a month ago, I finally got around to figuring it out and it was fascinating.
I was able to see my estimated Social Security benefits but also all of the income I’ve made each year I have been working.
That’s 18 years of work and seeing the corresponding income was eye-opening. It was fascinating to see how little I earned in the beginning when I was 17 and to see the number balloon over time as I got older and had more experience and higher pay.
It was also a big wake-up call, too. To see all of that money earned and wonder why I don’t have more to show for it. Of course, I did pay off $81,000 in student loan debt but seeing my numbers spurred me to action and save more.
If you want to access your estimated Social Security benefits, here’s how to get started.
Step 1: Create a my Social Security account
The first thing you need to do is create a my Social Security account. Through my Social Security, you create a username and password for your account.
You will need your Social Security number, email address, and mailing address. You must be 18 years of age and create an account for only yourself (and nobody else).
As you can imagine, dealing with your Social Security number is a delicate and sensitive matter.
You’ll get an activation code via email and answer security questions to verify your account. Once you’ve created an account and verified your identity, you can access your personalized account with your information.
Step 2: Go to ‘Plan for Retirement’ section
Halfway down you’ll see the “Plan for Retirement” section that has a graph and shows you your estimated Social Security benefits.
It shows you three possible benefit amounts:
As of writing, the early refers to getting Social Security benefits at age 62. The full Social Security benefits can be accessed at age 67. The delayed number shows you what your estimated benefits would be at age 70.
If you get your benefits early, the amount is smaller and if you delay, the amount will be larger.
There is a tool that you can use to see custom ages like 68 or 64 so you can compare and contrast even more ages. You can even save and print a copy of your Social Security estimates straight from the site.
Having this information is super important to your retirement strategy because it can help you properly prepare.
For example, if you firmly believe Social Security won’t be around, you could see the amount that you would have gotten and make sure you’re saving and investing that on your own.
How much should you save?
If you believe Social Security will be around, you can calculate how much you need to save for retirement in addition to these benefits.
A better strategy might be a hybrid strategy. This is where you mostly take care of your retirement funds on your own but plan to get some benefits. Of course, this all depends on what you believe and your risk tolerance.
I posted an informal Twitter poll asking if personal finance bloggers considered Social Security benefits as part of their retirement strategy. Many said “no”, while many others said they didn’t plan to get the full benefit but believed they’d get something.
It’s a good idea to be cautious and protect yourself but also know what estimated benefits you could qualify for come retirement.
Step 3: Check your eligibility and earnings
At the top of your account, you’ll see “Eligibility and Earnings” You’ll see if you have enough ‘credits’ to qualify for Social Security. You must earn at least 40 credits to qualify. Then you can review your full earnings. This is the fun part.
You can see all of your taxed earnings since you’ve started working. As I said, this can be a wake-up call. You can also go to the bottom of the page and see how much you’ve paid into Social Security over the years.
Accessing your estimated Social Security benefits is a good way to see what you could get in retirement. It can also help guide your current retirement strategy. On top of that, it’s a good way to see all the money you’ve earned over the years and verify how much you’ve paid into the program. To get started go to SSA.gov.