You shouldn't be guessing whether you'll be able to retire with enough income to get by. So let me show you how you can quickly estimate how much Social Security money you're going to get each month when you finally decide to trade in your business suit for khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.
These calculators are your friend
I recently chatted with Jean Setzfand, the vice president of financial security at AARP and one of the top Social Security experts out there. As you'll see in the video below, she says the calculators on both the AARP website and the official Social Security site are top-notch, and she gives the nod to the latter because it can actually pull your entire earnings history to better estimate your benefits.
I tried out both calculators. Here's a quick summary of each.
1. The Social Security Administration website indeed has the best calculator out there, because it can give you the most accurate picture of your monthly Social Security income when you retire. Once you've signed in, the calculator automatically pulls your earnings history -- and believe me, it's extremely interesting to see your entire life's earnings summarized year by year.
The calculator then shows your estimated Social Security monthly payments, assuming you choose one of three different ages to begin taking benefits:
- Full retirement age -- between 65 and 67, depending on your date of birth
- Age 70 -- the latest age you can begin taking benefits
- Early retirement age -- age 62, the earliest age you can begin taking benefits
You can also view and print out your official, full statement from the Social Security Administration.
The biggest barrier to getting this info is simply creating your account; the SSA needs to know you are really you, after all. But it will only take you about five minutes, so just do it already.
2. The AARP Social Security website is also great because it includes some extra features. Once you input your information, you'll see an extremely easy-to-read bar graph showing your estimated monthly payouts for each year you could begin taking benefits, from age 62 to 70. You'll also be presented with neatly summarized boxes explaining how to maximize your monthly benefits, depending on your marital status. The calculator also helps you estimate your living expenses in retirement to see just how much (or how little) Social Security will cover.
Spending just a little time on each of these two websites is a real eye-opener. I recommend sitting down tonight with your spouse, significant other, or pet goldfish and giving both calculators a try. Doing so may very well change how -- and how much -- you save, beginning tomorrow.