Do you know how much money you'll receive in Social Security benefits in retirement?
Research shows only 4 out of 10 workers—and slightly more than half of retirees—have estimated the amount of their Social Security benefits at the age they plan to retire. Yet, doing some quick calculations will allow you to figure out how you can increase your Social Security benefit so that you can get the highest amount of guaranteed income possible in your 60s, 70s and beyond.
Calculating this figure early can help you determine how long you may need to work as well as how much to save and how to invest your retirement dollars. Your monthly Social Security check is based on the total of your taxed earnings in the 35 highest-paid years of your career. Here are three free online tools to help you crunch the numbers:
You can head to Retirement Estimator on the Social Security Administration's website for a ballpark estimate. Enter some basic information—your name, Social Security number, date of birth, mother's maiden name and last year's income—and the tool will calculate your benefits based on your earnings history. You'll get estimates for the amount you'll receive if you take your benefits early—at age 62. Another estimate for benefits at your full retirement age—whether it's 65, 66, or 67—and you can also find out the maximum benefit you'll receive if you wait until age 70. Of course, the estimates are based on current law and could change by the time you retire.
If you're married and want to find out about various opportunities that could help you and your spouse maximize Social Security benefits, check out the Social Security Planner at Financial Engines, an investment advisory firm. The online tool asks you a few questions and then will spit out the best claiming strategy that is tailored to your specific situation. In general, the higher-earning spouse should delay claiming his or her own benefits until age 70, but that doesn't mean that they can't receive benefits in the meantime. If you're married, depending on the age and income difference between you and your spouse, one of you may be able to get spousal benefits while the higher earner delays claiming benefits. This strategy increases the higher earner's own benefits—as well as the benefits of the lower-earning spouse's survivor benefits if he or she outlives the higher-earning spouse.
The Social Security Calculator at AARP's website is another useful tool to help you decide when you should claim your benefits. Since the rules for married couples can make it a little more complicated to know when to claim, this tool helps you figure out how much more or less you will each receive as a payout depending on when you apply for benefits. Waiting to claim can be particularly important for higher-earning spouses. The tool will also let you calculate how much of your expenses will likely be covered by your Social Security benefits and how much your benefits will increase for every year that you wait to claim up to age 70.
Since you may live longer and need more money than you expect to in retirement, most financial advisors recommend that if you can work, you do so for as long as you can to boost your Social Security benefits.