Social Security benefits can play a significant role throughout retirement, helping you afford a more comfortable lifestyle. But it's important to learn as much as you can about how the program works, otherwise you could end up receiving less than you think in benefits.

If you're planning on filing for Social Security in 2021, make sure you know what to expect from your benefits. By checking your benefit amount right now, you can ensure you're receiving as much as you should.

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How much will you receive in benefits?

Before you begin claiming, it's crucial to determine how much you'll be receiving. Knowing what your future monthly payments will look like makes it easier to plan for retirement,because you'll be able to determine how much of your income will come from Social Security and how much will need to come from other sources like your retirement fund.

It's also a good idea to check your benefit amount to make sure there are no mistakes in your earnings record. The Social Security Administration uses this record to calculate your benefit amount. If your record isn't accurate, you could receive less than you deserve.

The good news is that you don't need to wait until you begin claiming to see how much you'll receive. By checking your statements online, you can see your estimated benefit amount as well as double-check your earnings record for accuracy. If you haven't done so already, create a mySocialSecurity account to see all your Social Security-related information in one place.

Why you might not receive as much as you think

Checking your benefit amount before you begin claiming is a smart idea, but the amount you see on your statements could be misleading.

Your estimated benefit amount assumes you'll be claiming at your full retirement age (FRA), which is either age 66 or 67, depending on the year you were born. If you're turning 62 in 2021, your FRA is 66 and 10 months.

If you claim earlier than your FRA, your benefit amount will be less than what you see on your statements. In fact, if you have a FRA of 66 and 10 months and you claim at age 62, you'll only receive 70.8% of your full benefit amount. In other words, your monthly checks will be permanently reduced by nearly 30%.

Theoretically, it shouldn't matter when you begin claiming because you should receive roughly the same amount no matter what. By claiming early, you'll receive smaller checks but more of them over your lifetime. Delay benefits, and you won't receive as many checks in total, but each one will be larger.

However, if you're going to depend on Social Security to cover the bulk of your expenses in retirement, you likely will want to receive as much as possible each month. If you claim early and then discover you're not collecting as much as you thought you would, that surprise can derail your retirement plans.

Doing your homework can pay off

Claiming Social Security benefits is a significant step in your retirement journey, and it's important to make sure you have all the information to make this decision. Checking your benefit amount online and then determining how the age at which you claim will affect this amount is a wise move.