Estimating Your Social Security Retirement Benefits
Before You Apply
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has recently created an Internet service that allows you to customize your estimates of future Social Security benefits. You can find three benefit calculators at the agency’s website at Choose A Benefit Calculator.
The Quick Calculator is a rough estimate calculator that requires you to put in only your age and your earnings for the current year. The calculator then produces a rough estimate of what your Social Security benefits would be if your income stayed the same from now until you retired and became eligible for benefits. However, after you have worked and contributed at least thirty-five (35) years into the Social Securty system, your benefit amount may also change if you continue to work and contribute to the Social Security sytem depending on your previous payments to the system and future earnings.
The Online Calculator requires you to put in your date of birth and complete year-by-year earnings history up to the present. It provides a more detailed estimate provided by the Quick calculator. In order to make the best estimates, you need to put in the amount you earned each year that you have worked and paid into Social Security. The SSA has this information in its databases but in order to protect your privacy has decided not to link the calculators to its database.
The Detailed Calculator provides the most precise estimates. However, it requires that the program be downloaded to your computer. You must type in all the information found on your annual statement of benefits (available from Social Security). The Detailed version also allows you to estimate future earnings until expected retirement. This will give you the most precise result possible.
Individuals age 60 and older continue to receive paper statements as well, however the paper statements do not include the previous year’s earnings and also assume that you will continue to work until normal retirement age.
To protect your privacy, the agency did not link the calculators to its database. As a result, the more detailed calculators require you to type in your own earnings history. That information is on your annual statement of benefits. If you haven't received one yet, you can request one below. This information is sent to you by mail in 2-4 weeks.
You can find the amount you earned each year by looking at the forms you filed with IRS or on the annual earnings statement mailed to you by SSA if you are over age 60. The second is more accurate, because it shows what employers have actually reported to SSA. If you believe the SSA report is wrong, contact them immediately with proof of the error.
Once You Start Receiving Retirement Benefits
The Social Security Administration has added an “earnings limit” calculator to their website. This calculator allows you to determine the amount you will receive in benefits if you are retiring this year, based on your earnings from the past year. Click here to use the calculator.
Another useful tool on the website is the American Savings Education Council’s “Ballpark Estimate” worksheet. This worksheet allows you to see how much you need to save before you retire to supplement your Social Security benefits.