Feature Articles: Retirement
How to stay informed about your social security benefits
Cynthia E. Crawford, Ed.S., Ph.D., Extension Professional focusing on Retirement Planning Education, Personal Financial Planning, University of Missouri Extension
Whether retirement is a very long-range goal, retirement is in sight or you’re currently retired, there are important websites to help you stay informed and check the accuracy of your earnings.
My Social Security website
Visit the Social Security Administration website at https://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/ to create your personal account. Click on the Sign In button at the top right corner of the home page to get started. Setting up the account is a snap but you have to be at least 18 years of age and you have to provide your email address, Social Security number and U.S. mailing address.
The website makes it clear that you can only set up an account for yourself and you cannot create an account on behalf of someone else. The account set-up takes less than ten minutes to complete so, after you’ve gone through the process, encourage your spouse to sit down and establish his/hers as well.
Once you’ve established an account, you’ll have your earnings history and benefit estimates at your fingertips any time you want the information.
What did I learn by looking at my social security information for about ten minutes?
- I was reminded that 62 is the soonest that retirement benefits could be available. Each year that I wait to take social security benefits is like giving myself a 6-8% raise, and the raises are a sure thing until I reach age 70. A 6-8% raise per year is something that most workers only dream about these days!
- Once I reach age 70, though, I have reached my maximum benefit, so there is no incentive to delay collecting benefits.
- Wow! If I compare monthly benefits at age 62 to age 70, my monthly income from social security will be almost double and those payments will continue for the rest of my life, hopefully for decades.
- I was reminded that 65 is no longer the age of full social security retirement benefits. In my case it is 66½ years and for some it may be 67 years of age.
- I learned that people currently receiving social security income can use this site to order replacement cards and benefit statements for tax purposes.
- At first glance, my earnings benefit record seemed a little low. Until I realized that I’ve been able to pay some health insurance premiums through my employer with pre-tax dollars. Those dollars aren’t included in my earnings totals for Social Security retirement benefits.
- The age for Medicare eligibility remains at 65 and the website reminds me even if I don’t retire at age 65, I must be sure to contact Social Security three months before my 65th birthday to enroll in Medicare. If I forget this detail and wait too long, there will be substantial increases in premium costs for Medicare. You can’t afford to miss this important filing window – remind your friends and family who are approaching their 65th birthdays!
- Finally I was reminded that social security includes retirement benefits and a whole lot more, including disability insurance in case my health prevents me from no longer working until at least age 62, benefits for my spouse and minor children if I am retired or disabled, and health insurance benefits once I reach 65.
CFPB Planning for Retirement tool
This interactive online tool, launched in November 2015, is worth your review as well: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/retirement/. Planning for Retirement is a user-friendly website designed to help people think about when to file for Social Security retirement benefits. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) worked closely with the Social Security Administration to establish this helpful tool.
The user doesn’t have to establish an account or sign in. You do not provide your name or Social Security number either. You will only be asked to enter your birth date and highest annual work income (remember to reduce it by any pre-tax dollars for health insurance premiums paid through your employer). Using the amount from your MySocialSecurity.gov account (see above) is the most accurate, however, estimating is fine. No data is stored on this account when you log off.
Keep scrolling down on the Planning for Retirement website so that you work through all three steps. You’ll be surprised how quickly (it only takes a few minutes) and easily you can learn more about your Social Security benefits available at retirement. Specifically, the website shows how the age that you apply for retirement benefits makes a difference in your monthly income for the rest of your life (and that of anyone receiving survivors benefits for their life).
Both of these websites work to provide powerful information that can help a person move from making impulsive decisions about Social Security benefits to making more deliberate, better-informed decisions.
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Last update: Wednesday, February 03, 2016