Tens of millions of people receive Social Security benefits every month, and nearly every American is hoping that the retirement program will still be there to provide benefits after they stop working. Yet Social Security is complex, and understanding exactly what you'll be entitled to receive when you retire can be almost impossible to figure out on your own.
To plan for retirement well, you simply have to know what Social Security is likely to provide. Fortunately, the federal government makes it easy to see where you stand with Social Security. Checking your Social Security statement is the first thing everyone should do to help their retirement planning in 2022, because it will give you essential information to come up with a realistic strategy to reach your financial goals.
What your Social Security statement will tell you
Your Social Security statement is the key to understanding what to expect from the program. The Social Security Administration (SSA) should have all of your earnings history throughout your career, and based on those numbers and some basic assumptions about your future, it can calculate expected figures for what you'll receive from Social Security.
More specifically, the Social Security statement provides estimates for several different benefits. It will tell you what your retiree benefits will be if you retire at your full retirement age. It'll also provide your lower monthly benefit if you claim at age 62, as well as the higher benefit you'll receive if you wait until age 70.
Social Security also provides other types of benefits, and the statement goes into detail on those as well. If you become disabled during your career and qualify for disability benefits, then the statement will tell you what your monthly payments would be.
Also, Social Security isn't just about you as a worker. Your family might also be entitled to benefits, and the statement discusses what your surviving family members might receive after your death, based on your work history.
Understanding the limits of your Social Security statement
As useful as the Social Security statement is, it's not perfect. It generally makes the assumption that you'll continue working at roughly the same income level for the rest of your career. So if you're anticipating changes -- whether it's taking a higher-paying job, retiring early, or semi-retiring with reduced work income -- you won't be able to take the statement's estimates at face value.
Moreover, you'll want to make sure the SSA has accurate information about your past work history. Sometimes, employers don't report the right information, and that can shortchange you on your hard-earned benefits.
How to get your Social Security statement
It used to be that the SSA sent a mailed copy of your Social Security statement every year. Although that practice has changed, the easiest way to get access is through the SSA website. The mySocialSecurity page will let you log in and see your latest statement whenever you want.
If you've never seen your Social Security statement, or if it's been a while since you saw it last, then you should make checking your latest information a priority for 2022. Given the key role that Social Security plays in nearly everyone's financial life, there's no excuse for taking just a few minutes and seeing what you've got coming from the federal retirement program when the time comes.