Q: Can you tell me how I can find out what my benefit and probable income from Social Security would be? I’ve heard some complaints about conflicting information. I turn 62 later this year.
A: The age at which you start Social Security is for most people the biggest financial decision you will ever make. But according to TSCL’s annual Senior Survey, 71% of survey participants said that prior to starting Social Security benefits, they had no idea of the amount of money they could expect over a typical 20 to 30 year retirement. That lack of financial information can have big consequences for your standard of living in retirement, your success at making your retirement finances last, and ultimately how much you enjoy retirement.
Individuals at full retirement age (66 in 2017) who retire with an average monthly benefit of $1,300 would receive about $540,000 over a 25-year retirement assuming a 2.2% cost-of-living adjustment. Since you were born in 1955, your full retirement age is 66 + 2 months. But even people who retire at full retirement age are leaving money on the table when starting benefits prior to reaching age 70. Waiting until age 70 allows benefits to grow 8% per year.
Getting the maximum you’ve earned on your personal work record requires some homework and planning. You can’t count on getting all of your retirement advice from the Social Security Administration. According to TSCL’s Senior Survey, 77% of participants said they received no counseling from Social Security staff about the best age to start benefits, undoubtedly because people are directed to sign up for benefits online.
The information you do get can seem contradictory. The one piece of advice almost all retirement advisors do agree on is this — starting Social Security at 62 is a bad idea unless you are terminally ill with only a few more years to live. Your benefits will be permanently reduced up to 30% depending on your full retirement age, and if you are working, your benefits could be reduced due to earnings restriction rules.
The Social Security website, www.SocialSecurity.gov, has a number of tools and retirement planning to get you start planning, including benefit estimators. You should set up a “my Social Security” account that will give you online access to your earnings record, because you will need that for an accurate estimate of your benefit.
In addition, we strongly recommend that you attend classes or workshops about Social Security. Check with your local senior center, community colleges and universities, libraries or area agencies on aging. If you have some retirement savings in an IRA or 401(k), many of the companies handling your retirement money offer some benefit counseling advice that can help you calculate how much longer you may need to work to reach a more optimal level of retirement savings.
To learn more, download “When To Start Receiving Benefits” from the Social Security Administration.
Recommended reading: “Get What’s Yours - The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Philip Moeller, Paul Solman, and “How to Make Your Money Last: The Indispensable Retirement Guide,” Jane Bryant Quinn.