Social Security Planning: How to Find Your Estimated Benefits
Social Security planning is a must if you ever plan to retire, and finding your estimated social security benefits is easier than you'd think.
Both my wife and I are decades away from claiming our Social Security. Still, we were curious about how much money we will potentially bring in from Social Security once we hit full retirement age. We’re aware that the figure can and will change for a number of reasons over the coming decades, but we figured that taking a look at our projected benefits now would give us a starting point for some of our retirement and Social Security planning needs.
If you’re like me, you probably have no clue where to go to find your estimated Social Security benefits. Thankfully, I was able to find the official source for that information and figure out how to use it.
Paper Social Security Statements
In the past, you used to get a Social Security statement every five years, starting at age 25 until age 60. That is, as long as you weren’t receiving Social Security benefits and you didn’t have a registered “my Social Security” account online. But on January 9th, 2017, the Social Security Administration changed who will get paper Social Security statements. From now on, only people age 60 or older will receive paper statements. And that’s still only if you aren’t receiving Social Security benefits and don’t have a registered my Social Security account.
Essentially, you won’t get a paper statement now until you’re 60. You’ll have no clue what your future estimated Social Security benefits will be, and you won’t be able to plan for your future retirement without that information. Thankfully, there’s another way to access your estimated Social Security benefits and related information.
‘my Social Security’ Accounts
My wife and I have never received paper Social Security statements. Instead, we signed up for my Social Security accounts to access our statements online. Be careful, though – if you sign up for a my Social Security account online, you will no longer qualify for any paper social security statements based on the current rules.
How to Set Up a my Social Security Account
The first step is visiting the my Social Security website. Make sure this is the website you are accessing, as it is the official Social Security Administration website.
To sign up, you need to have a valid email address, be at least 18 years old, have a valid U.S. mailing address, and have a Social Security number. Simply navigate to the “Create an Account” page and get started filling out the requested information. You’ll have to answer some personal questions to verify your identity. These questions usually pertain to your credit or other historical information that only you will know in detail. They asked us information about our past addresses and our credit.
Finding Social Security Benefits After You Sign Up
After you sign up for an account, simply log in to see your estimated Social Security benefits. At the top of the screen, you will need to navigate to the “My Home” tab and then to “Overview.” Here, you can find your estimated Social Security benefits. Keep in mind, the numbers you view on the my Social Security website are calculated based on your earnings history. Additionally, they project that you’ll earn the same amount of income you made during the last year until you retire. Want to know your early retirement benefits or benefits available at age 70? Simply click on the “Estimated Benefits” sub-item. Of course, these estimated benefits could change before you retire if the Social Security rules change.
On the “Estimated Benefits” page, you can also see other important benefits you could receive. Take, for example, the amount of disability benefits you’d qualify for if you became disabled today. Or the survivor benefits for your spouse and children should the worst happen.
While you’re looking at your Social Security benefits, it’s important to look at your earnings history.
This is another sub-item under the “My Home” tab. Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on your earnings history. If the history isn’t correct, your benefits won’t be, either. Make sure that all years in which you paid FICA tax have reported earnings listed. Want to be even more thorough in your Social Security planning? You can check to make sure each year’s reported earnings matches your historical W-2 information.
You Can Still Get a Paper Social Security Statement
If you hate the idea of accessing your Social Security information online, there’s still a way to get a paper statement. All you have to do is fill out Form SSA-7004 Request for Social Security Statement. After the Social Security Administration receives the form, you should expect to get a Social Security statement in four to six weeks.
My wife and I will be very thankful if we get the amount of Social Security benefits that the website estimates. But of course, there’s uncertainty around how the program may change. So we’re viewing that potential income as the icing on our retirement cake rather than anything to depend on.