Most older Americans will end up depending on their Social Security benefits to some degree in retirement, so it pays to understand how the program works to ensure you're making the most of your monthly checks.
However, a whopping 57% of Americans don't check their online statements to see approximately how much they'll be receiving in benefits, according to the Social Security Administration. That can end up being a major mistake, because checking your future benefit amount could make it much easier to prepare for retirement.
The easy way to estimate your future benefit amount
In the past, the Social Security Administration mailed paper statements to workers every year. But in recent years, the SSA started limiting the number of paper statements sent out, only sending them to certain age groups. That means that for millions of workers the only way to access statements is to create a mySocialSecurity account online.
Your online statements can provide a wealth of information, such as your earnings record over the years, how much you've paid in Social Security and Medicare taxes, and how much you could receive in disability benefits if you become disabled. One of the most important pieces of information, though, is an estimate of your future retirement benefit amount based on your real earnings.
You'll only see this information on your statements if you're eligible to collect retirement benefits, meaning you've worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least 40 quarters (or 10 years). But if you know approximately how much you'll be receiving in benefits once you retire, that can make retirement planning much easier.
How estimating your benefit amount can improve your retirement plan
One of the most important numbers to determine when you're planning for retirement is how much you expect to spend each year. When you know approximately how much you'll be receiving in benefits each month once you retire, that will also help you figure out how much money will need to come from your retirement fund.
For example, say you expect to need around $50,000 per year to cover all your retirement expenses. You've checked your online Social Security statements to see that you'll likely receive around $1,500 per month in benefits, or $18,000 per year. That means around $32,000 per year will need to come from your savings (assuming you don't have any other sources of income, such as a pension). Now when you plug your information into a retirement calculator to see how much you'll have to save by the time you retire, your results will be more accurate.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that your estimated benefit amount on your statements assumes you'll begin claiming at your full retirement age (FRA), which is age 67 for those born in 1960 or later, or either 66 or 66 and a few months for those born before 1960. If you claim earlier than your FRA, your benefits will be reduced by up to 30%.
Make sure you think about what age you plan to file for benefits, because that will impact your savings plan. If you plan your retirement under the assumption that you'll be receiving your full benefit amount but then claim early and your benefits are reduced, it could throw off your entire retirement.
Creating a retirement plan can be tough, but it's a little easier when you know what to expect from Social Security. By checking your benefit amount online before you retire, you can make sure your retirement plan is as accurate as possible.