The question of when to take Social Security is a vexing one.
If you claim your benefit too early, you risk short-changing yourself out of money you paid in to the system.
If you claim too late, you’re likely to only get 75 cents for every dollar you paid in. And everyone knows the current math on Social Security is unsustainable. This is particularly true for anyone under 40!
You can claim your Social Security benefit as early as age 62. But should you?
Fortunately, technology can ride to the rescue and provide an estimate of what your monthly check will look like to help you decide.
These online calculators can help plan retirement
Note: All tools below are free unless otherwise noted.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers no less than five online calculators to help you plan your retirement.
Why five? Because some pull your records for a more granular answer while others don’t. You may want to try them all. Or you may just want to cherry-pick those that seems easiest to use.
Keep in mind that all the info and estimates you get are just that — estimates. Don’t treat them as gospel. Just use the info you get as one factor as you look down the road and plan for your eventual retirement.
Official SSA calculators
The Retirement Estimator calculator offers estimates of your benefit based on your actual Social Security earnings record.
You’ll need to fill out your name, mother’s maiden name, Social Security number, date of birth and place of birth to get your estimate.
Social Security Quick Calculator
Don’t want to put too much info out there online? The Quick Calculator may be the right choice for you.
Just provide your date of birth, current year earnings and your future retirement date (the latter is optional). You’ll be able to see your benefit estimate in either today’s dollars or inflated future dollars.
SSA Online Calculator
If you like to pour over numbers, this is the calculator for you. The SSA Online Calculator offers one of the most granular assessments so far.
One special note: Do not attempt to get a calculation of your benefits without first pulling up your online Social Security statement. You’ll need it to enter all your annual earnings from 1951 to 2016 and your online Social Security statement contains all the info!
Want an even deeper read of your records and the likely Social Security benefit you can expect? Try the Detailed Calculator, which digs into your earnings record on file with the SSA.
This calculator is only available as download to your desktop computer.
Other government calculators
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a new calculator to help you determine the optimal time to start taking Social Security.
The Planning for Retirement tool allows you to pop in your specifics to get a detailed answer.
But act fast if you’re interested in this one: We’re not sure how long the CFPB will be around!
Fidelity has long advised about how much of your salary you should save for retirement, broken down by age.
Now the investment company has an online calculator to help you decided when to claim your Social Security benefit.
AARP’s interactive calculator allows you to pop in your specifics and it will give you a decision tree to help you figure out the optimal time to take Social Security.
Bankrate’s online calculator gets a bit more detailed. It allows you to enter in any expected salary increases and expectations about rates of inflation down the road to deliver a more robust estimate.
Center for Retirement Research calculator
Long respected as an authority on retirement, Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research offers the Target Your Retirement calculator.
This one allows you to adjust three variables — controlling spending, working longer and tapping home equity — to play around with your estimate.
Maximize My Social Security calculator
Finally, if you are looking for a more comprehensive approach to give you specifics on when it would be best to start drawing on your Social Security, check out the Maximize My Social Security calculator.
One special note: Unlike all the other calculators mentioned, Maximize My Social Security is not free to use — it costs $40.
There are two other different levels of premium analysis for $250 that you can choose, but the basic $40 package gives you access to sophisticated software that helps determine the best time to start receiving your checks.