What you need to know about your Social Security benefits

Social Security: By the numbers
Social Security: By the numbers

When it comes to Social Security, workers and retirees need to know as much as they can about how their benefits work so they can understand the amount of resources they will have available, determine how much to save and figure out when to claim benefits.

This week, the White House launched to provide older Americans, their families, friends and other caregivers a one-stop resource for healthy aging, long-term care and retirement planning information along with quick links to the government's Medicare and Social Security websites.

To offer a more comprehensive outlook for your retirement, the Social Security Administration is also now partnering with three digital financial advisory services—Betterment, Financial Engines and HelloWallet—who will integrate the SSA's data file to help consumers more accurately estimate how much they'll receive in their expected Social Security benefit.

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That's good news for older Americans afraid they may be leaving money on the table. Financial Engines, which launched its free Social Security planner in June 2014, says it has identified more than $10 billion in additional Social Security benefits for customers in the past year, and the median amount of additional benefits for a typical married couple has been more than $100,000.

Before estimating your Social Security benefits, here are five basic facts that you should know:

Retirement age

What's my full retirement age? It's not 65 for many Americans. The full retirement age is increasing and can go from 65 to 67 depending on when you were born. Go to the retirement age calculator on the SSA's website to find your full retirement age.

Social Security qualifications

It generally takes 10 years of work to qualify for retirement benefits. Your monthly benefit is calculated based on the 35 years in which you earned the most.

Maximum benefit

Your maximum Social Security benefit depends on the age that you retire. For someone who reaches their full retirement age in 2015, the maximum monthly benefit is $2,663.

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When you can collect

You can get your first monthly check when you turn 62, but think carefully before taking your benefits early. Collecting Social Security benefits before your full retirement age can reduce your benefit by as much as 30 percent.

When to claim

If you are working longer or don't need the money, you may want to wait to collect your monthly benefit. Waiting until you're 70 to collect can increase your Social Security benefit by as much as 8 percent a year.