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Social Security: How to Figure Out Your Benefit

This post is a follow up to my November post entitled "Notice Something Missing from Social Security this Year?".   Today, there is still no way to get a paper estimate of your retirement benefits if you are under age 60.  Luckily, there are a few online tools the Social Security Administration provides that can help:

Retirement Estimator (http://www.ssa.gov/estimator/)

This calculator is great because it uses your actual earnings history on file to give you a benefit estimate.  So you should be under age 62 and have at least 10 years of earnings history to use this tool.

Online Calculator (http://www.ssa.gov/retire2/AnypiaApplet.html)

This calculator is helpful if you don't want to share your personal information (like social security number) online.  The results are fairly accurate, but you do need to enter extra information like your historical earnings, retirement age, future earnings, etc.

Other Calculators (http://www.ssa.gov/oact/anypia/index.html)

There is also the "Quick Calculator" and "Detailed Calculator" available.  I don't recommend the Quick Calculator because I think the estimates are just too rough to be of much use.

I've used the Detailed Calculator since I first bought it on a 3.5" floppy disk in the late 1990's.  It is a great tool for professional advisors, but frankly it's not very user friendly -- I suggest using one of the above two calculators unless you have a unique situation or have a special benefit to compute.

Reminder

It's important to remember that calculations from these tools are estimates only.  Also, they will not help you decide the best age to start taking benefits, or help account for special situations such as spousal or widows benefits - among other things.