For younger investors, Social Security seems on shaky ground.
At the current pace, the program should begin offering reduced payouts in 2034. While politicians are unlikely to let the program die by the time you retire, experts say it might make sense to start thinking about Social Security benefits as just a small slice of your retirement.
“My mindset is to think of it as a small supplemental income in retirement,” said Nick Foulks, director of communications strategy and customer engagement at Great Waters Financial.
Still, it would be good to know what that income might look like when you plan a certain lifestyle after retirement. Here’s how Social Security benefits are calculated and how to figure out what yours could be — even if you’re years away from retirement.
Check the status of your Social Security benefits now
Social Security benefits are designed to replace approximately 40% of your income, calculated by taking the average of your monthly earnings over your most lucrative 35 years of employment and adjusting for inflation.
The amount you receive fluctuates depending on when you apply for your benefit. For those born in 1960 or later, the full retirement age is currently 67. You can choose to receive benefits from the age of 62, but early retirement can lead to 30% of your benefit.
If you delay your retirement beyond your full retirement age, you will receive an 8% annual increase on your payout until your benefit reaches a maximum of 70.
Depending on your financial situation, it may make sense to take Social Security sooner or later. But regardless of when you retire, it’s essential to make sure you get the maximum benefit you qualify for. And that means making sure the Social Security Administration has your numbers right now.
“Make sure all your years are counted,” says Foulks. “Every year I check my income record to make sure they are counting my income correctly.”
The income listed for a given year must match your total pre-tax income. Mistakes can happen if you change jobs or start working mid-year, Foulks says.
To verify your details, create an account on the Social Security Administration website (you’ll need to jump through some hoops to verify your identity) and download your Social Security Statement. This document sets out what you have earned each year thus far and what your current benefit would be if you were claiming between the ages of 62 and 70.
Keeping track of your annual earnings now can save you a lot of grief later. If you notice a discrepancy, you must submit a formal request for correction to the SSA, which will require you to provide documents proving that your income is correct.
In other words, stay tuned here now or else you could be unearthing 20-year-old W-2s somewhere along the way.
Plus, by checking in on your Social Security status now, you’ll give yourself a better idea of what you’ll need to save to fund the lifestyle you want to live after retirement.
“That could be a guiding light there,” says Foulks. “You may not know all the pieces of the puzzle, but at least you get a rough draft of it.”
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