Social Security is one of the most important sources of income for retirees in America. Those 65 and older get about 65% of their income on average from Social Security, according to the latest figures from the SSA's Office of Retirement and Disability Policy. Given how much retirees rely on Social Security, you need to know if your benefits measure up to those of your peers, and if you're still working, having a sense of how large your projected Social Security checks can help you figure out whether you need to take steps to boost those benefits through smart career moves.
With tens of millions of recipients getting Social Security benefits, data from the SSA can give you a good sense of how you fare under the program compared to your fellow Americans. To help you find out whether your benefits measure up, let's take a closer look at that data to see where you fall on the Social Security spectrum.
What Social Security pays
Looking at the Social Security Administration's data at the highest level, the typical American who is 65 or older receives benefits of about $1,400 per month, or $16,800 annually. Almost a quarter of Social Security recipients get $25,000 or more in benefits, while 40% get by on $15,000 or less in annual Social Security payments.
Interestingly, you can see the impact that taking Social Security has on average benefits. The typical person between age 62 and 64 gets a much smaller amount from Social Security, with benefits that equate to about $1,120 monthly. That 20% haircut represents in part the reduced benefits that those who claim Social Security early have to accept compared to those who wait until full retirement age.
With these numbers, you could conclude that if you're making $1,400 or more from Social Security monthly, you're keeping up with most of your peers, and if you're fortunate enough to pull in $2,000 or more every month, then you're ahead of three-quarters of other Social Security recipients. But when you look more closely at the data, you can see that there are huge disparities between those with different levels of income, as well as differences related to marital status.
Social Security haves and have-nots
How much you make during your lifetime is the biggest factor in determining how much you get from Social Security, and so dividing Americans into five groups based on their income levels reveals just how much Social Security benefits differ among people and families. For those who earned the least income, typical benefits amounted to just over $800 per month, yet they made up 70% or more of their total income. By contrast, those in the highest income brackets received almost $2,000 in monthly Social Security benefits, yet even with that much higher payment, Social Security represented less than 40% of their overall income from all sources.
The other big differences come in comparing married couples to those who aren't married. Almost half of married couples 65 and older receive $25,000 or more in annual Social Security benefits, with the typical monthly amount coming to about $2,030. Among singles, however, the typical recipient gets less than $1,200 per month, with only about 4% of recipients reaching that $25,000 annual figure.
How to boost your Social Security benefit
For those who are currently 65 or older and receiving Social Security, finding ways to increase what you get in monthly benefits is difficult. Without the ability to extend your work history, there aren't many strategies available once you've claimed Social Security and started getting checks. For many, the better way to look at boosting income is through other means, such as investing whatever savings you've managed to set aside.
If you're still working, though, you have more options to increase your benefits. Looking at your Social Security statement at the SSA website can give you an initial look at what you can expect to get when you retire, and comparing it to these figures can show you whether you're ahead of the game or need to work harder to increase your benefit amount as much as you can. In addition to earning more, setting up your finances to allow you to delay taking Social Security until your full retirement age or beyond can make a huge difference in what your monthly benefit will be. Every year you wait beyond full retirement age adds 8% to your monthly benefit, which for many people adds $100 or more per month to their eventual benefits.
Social Security can seem too complicated to understand fully, but it's still important to see how your benefits measure up. By being smart about your overall money situation, you can make Social Security a key part of your financial success.
Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.