Curious about your Social Security benefits? Notice you’re no longer receiving annual Social Security Benefits statements? The Social Security office is no longer mailing out those statements but you can estimate social security benefits yourself online.
Here’s a do-it-yourself guide to help you navigate the Social Security website and use the Social Security Estimator. First step is to make sure you have your social security number handy (and your mother’s maiden name) before you go to www.socialsecurity.gov. Note: you can only estimate your own social security benefits; you can not go on the website to look up someone else’s benefits.
When you log on to the Social Security website, click on “Estimate Your Retirement Benefits” in the column of links on the left side of the Home page. Read the two paragraphs on the next page before selecting “Estimate Your Benefits.” Next, you will need to “Agree” to the Privacy Statement. On the following page, you will need to enter your personal information (About You), and press “Continue” on the bottom right corner of the page; the next page gives you a chance to double-check that you’ve entered the correct information before selecting “Continue” again.
On the “Benefits Calculator” page, enter your wages for the previous year and select Continue again. This next page is important and you can Print/Save it. Here you will find your Social Security benefits if you retire at age 62, at your full retirement age (which is supplied) or if you defer your benefits until age 70.
The column on the left side gives you links to other choices, that can be very valuable to you. Traditionally, we thought we would get Social Security benefits when we reached age 65 but that is no longer the case, unless you were born before 1937. The retirement age has crept up a bit and the Benefits Calculator tells you at what age you can collect your full retirement benefit. The chart “Retirement Benefits by Year of Birth” clarifies the details.
In the “Retirement Planner,” you will learn about eligibility issues and how certain other pensions may have an impact on your social security benefits. For example, a government pension if you were in the military or a teacher’s pension (Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)). You can estimate Social Security benefits and life expectancy.
The Social Security Benefits Calculator is probably the most useful page other than your personal benefits page. Here you can use four different calculators to estimate Social Security benefits, see the impact of WEP, input actual earnings and projected earnings or download the detailed calculator that will include WEP income in your calculations.
If you are nearing retirement age, the “Near Retirement?” page gives you a list of links where you can gather more information as well as the detailed links of how to apply for benefits. You can continue to work past retirement age while earning Social Security benefits, but there are strict limits and you’ll find that information under “Receiving Social Security Benefits While Working” link on the left side of “Your Retirement Benefit Estimate” page.
Ever been married for 10+ years? Many people do not understand the coordination of Social Security benefits, widower’s benefits, or benefits after divorce. This goes to the heart of social security planning. Before there were so many women in the workforce, a couple could only collect one Social Security benefit. Now it’s all about how to strategize the coordination of benefits.
For example, if the older person in a couple has attained full retirement age and has a higher benefit, the younger person in the couple, may apply for half the benefit if it is greater than his or her own full benefit. If the husband attains full retirement age; the wife’s full benefit would be less than half of her husband’s because she took off time for child-rearing. If the husband files and suspends his own benefit and defers it, the wife collects half while the husband’s benefit grows. He claims a higher benefit at age 70.
Divorced women of retirement age can file for half of her ex-spouse’s benefit (it takes nothing away from him) without him knowing or having to file if he’s reached retirement age.
In both cases, the Social Security benefit will be higher the longer you wait. But how long should you wait? What is the trade-off? If you’re in good health and have a life expectancy past age 85, you may want to defer that benefit until age 70. Remember, you should file for Medicare within 3 months of turning age 65 (that’s important!) regardless of when you take Social Security benefits.
There are additional considerations for people with disabilities, survivor benefits for both married and divorced widow(er)s, and minor children who receive survivor benefits until they turn 18. The social security website is a fountain of information. If you can’t find the information you need, the phone support at the Social Security office is very helpful.