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5 Social Security Steps to Take 10 Years Before You Retire

By Selena Maranjian - Dec 13, 2020 at 10:31AM

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Learning a little about Social Security now can help you collect many thousands of dollars more from the program.

There are lots of things you could do -- and many that you should do -- before you retire. For example, you might want to search online for things to see and do on your big trip to Europe. You could clean your golf clubs and get them ready. You might start going through closets to find old work clothing that you don't need and can sell or donate to charity.

There are financial things to do before retiring, too -- particularly ones related to Social Security. Here are five to put on your to-do list.

A hand is holding a Social Security card.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Learn your "full retirement age"

When dealing with Social Security, much depends on your full retirement age, which is the age at which you can start collecting the full benefits to which you're entitled, based on your work history. The full retirement age for most of us is 66 or 67. You can actually start collecting your benefits as early as age 62, and you can delay starting to collect until age 70, though. Starting early will result in smaller checks (though you'll get many more of them), and delaying will make your checks larger.

Here's a look at how much of your full Social Security benefits you'll get if you start collecting at various ages:

Start Collecting at:

Full Retirement Age of 66 

Full Retirement Age of 67 

62

75%

70%

63

80%

75%

64

86.7%

80%

65

93.3%

86.7%

66

100%

93.3%

67

108%

100%

68

116%

108%

69

124%

116%

70

132%

124%

Source: Social Security Administration. 

2. Get a "my Social Security" account

Next, head over to the Social Security Administration website and set up a "my Social Security" account. Doing so will let you be able to see a record of your earnings, year by year, along with estimates of your Social Security benefits, based on when you claim them. (Pro tip: If you see any mistakes in your record of earnings, try to get them fixed, as that can boost your future benefits.)

3. Work on maximizing your benefits

A key way to make your benefit checks bigger is to delay starting to collect them. That's not the only way to increase your Social Security benefits, though. You might also work to get the most out of the formula used to calculate your benefits. For example, it's based on averages of your (inflation-adjusted) earnings in the 35 years in which you earned the most. So if you've only worked for 30 years when you retire, there will be five zeroes factored into the calculations. If you can work a few more years, you'll be able to beef up your benefits. If you do have 35 years of earnings, but you're currently earning a lot more than you've ever earned, by continuing to work for one or more years, you'll be able to kick out your lowest-earning year(s) and replace them with higher-earning ones.

4. Have an overall retirement plan

Another key thing you need to address regarding Social Security before you retire is how it will fit in with your overall retirement plan. That means, first of all, developing a retirement plan if you don't yet have one. By yourself or with the help of a financial pro, figure out how much money you'll need in retirement and how you will amass the necessary funds.

Know that the average monthly Social Security benefit check was recently $1,523, or a little more than $18,000 annually. You'll likely collect a little more or less than that, and you'll probably want to augment that with investment income.

5. Think about when you want to start collecting your benefits

Now that you're armed with information about your full retirement age, your expected benefits, and more, start thinking about when you want to start collecting your benefits. There are good reasons to start early and good reasons to start late. It all depends on factors such as how long you need or want to work, how much income you need, and your expected longevity, as well.

The steps above are good to take when you're five or 10 years from retiring, but they're worth looking into and considering even when retirement is 20 years away, to help you plan for your future financial security and determine how much you might need to be saving and investing each year. Don't leave your retirement up to chance!

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