Most of us think about retirement when we think about Social Security. Did you know that in addition to retirement, Social Security pays disability benefits as well as and family and survivors benefits? Your Social Security Statement provides you with current estimates of how much you or your family would receive for each benefit. It also includes the record of your lifetime earnings from which your benefits are calculated.
You can obtain your personal Social Security Statement by going online at www.ssa.gov and clicking on “my Social Security” to create an account. Social Security will also mail a paper copy of your statement to workers age 60 and older three months before their birthday if they (1) don’t receive Social Security benefits and (2) don’t yet have a my Social Security account.
If you were born before 1938, your full retirement age (FRA) is 65. For everyone else, FRA gradually increases until it reaches age 67. People born in 1960 and later have a FRA of 67. Your Social Security Statement will provide you with your FRA in years and months (e.g., 66 years and 2 months for a person born in 1955), and estimates of your benefits at your FRA, at age 62 (the earliest you can begin receiving benefits), and at age 70 (the age at which you will receive the largest benefit).
You can retire as early as age 62 and begin collecting benefits; however, the amount you collect will be permanently reduced. If you delay taking benefits until after your FRA, you can receive higher benefits because of the additional earnings and credits you will receive for having delayed your benefit.
On average, Social Security replaces about 40 percent of annual pre-retirement earnings. For higher income earners, the percent will be lower than for workers who earned less throughout their working years. In either case, you will likely need other savings, investments, pensions, or retirement accounts to live at the same standard of living once you retire.
If you become disabled before your FRA and you have enough credits from your earnings, and you have a physical or mental impairment that’s expected to prevent you from doing “substantial” work for a year or more or result in death, you may be eligible for disability benefits after six months. An estimate of your disability benefits is also provided on your Social Security Statement.
If you are eligible for retirement or disability benefits, your family members are protected with survivor benefits should you pre-decease them. Benefits can be provided to your current or divorced spouse, minor children, or adult children disabled before age 22. Each may qualify for up to half of your benefit amount. Your Social Security Statement will provide the estimate of the monthly survivor benefit for your child; your spouse who is caring for your child; your spouse, if benefits start at full retirement age; and the total amount of family benefits allowed. In addition, your spouse or minor child may be eligible for a special one-time death benefit of $255.
All of the benefits that are listed on your Social Security Statement are based on your earnings history. That means that the closer you are to retirement the more accurate the estimates are because they are based on a longer work history with fewer uncertainties. Because your benefits are based on your earnings history, it’s a good idea to review a copy each year and check the information for accuracy. Set a convenient date on your calendar – maybe around tax season, or on your birthday – and be sure to download a copy each year.
Andrea L. Blackwelder, CFP®, ChFC and Joseph D. Clemens, CFP®, EA are the founders and partners of Wisdom Wealth Strategies. Their shared passion is simple: to bring financial empowerment, understanding, and peace-of mind to people who wish to improve their financial future, build wealth for their families, and achieve financial independence. Click here to find out more about how you can work with Wisdom Wealth Strategies.