Now that pensions are almost non-existent, many Americans rely on Social Security to sustain them financially in retirement.
You can estimate your Social Security benefit at any time.
But what happens if you’re retiring early? What can you expect that to do to your Social Security benefit? That’s what a listener of the Clark Howard Podcast recently asked.
How Do I Estimate My Social Security Benefit?
How can I estimate my Social Security benefit, especially if I’m retiring early?
That’s what a listener wanted to know on the May 2 podcast episode.
Asked Todd in Ohio: “I am a firefighter who plans on retiring in about four years at the age of 52 where I will collect a pension. I have worked enough other jobs over the years to qualify for Social Security. I don’t plan on working after I retire from the fire service.
“How can I estimate my Social Security benefit? Will those websites like maximizemysocialsecurity.com be any of use to me? Can I use it now if I know I’ll never work a Social Security job again?”
That pension will come in handy, Clark explained.
“First of all, you’re a brave man. I don’t know how firefighters have the bravery that you all have to run into a burning building at great risk to yourself to save others,” Clark says. “I mean, it’s unbelievable what you do as a firefighter and I appreciate so much of your years of service.
“The Social Security system does not appreciate when a worker retires with a full pension at a younger age than normal. In your case 52.”
How the Government Calculates Your Social Security Benefit
The Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates your eventual Social Security check by taking your 35 highest earning years and plugging them into a formula.
If you earn income for fewer than 35 years, you get a $0 plugged into the formula for those years. And then those $0 years “figure into the average and it kind of brutalizes what Social Security check you’d get sometime between age 62 and 70, whenever you take it,” Clark says.
The SSA walks you through how taking early retirement reduces your benefit.
Of course, the earliest age at which you’re allowed to take Social Security is 62 years old. But Clark has long maintained that you should wait until 70 years old if at all possible in order to get the maximum benefit. And that the dire predictions for the end of Social Security within a decade are exaggerated.
How To Estimate Your Future Social Security Benefit
You don’t need the software at Maximize My Social Security, Clark says. It’s designed to help you maximize your financial outcome from the benefit, taking into account a variety of factors.
Clark says that the most important thing you want to guard against is outliving your projected life expectancy and running out of money. The longer you delay Social Security, the better odds you’ll have of remaining financially solvent even if you live an especially long life.
You can, however, sign up for MySocialSecurity via the SSA. It will estimate how much money you’re expected to get based on the age you start taking benefits and your annual reported income.
From there, you can change variables such as your future income, the date you want to start collecting Social Security and more. It also allows you to review your past income and make sure that the SSA has recorded it correctly.
“It’s fantastic that you’re going to have that firefighter pension for the rest of your life because the Social Security check is not gonna be that great, unfortunately,” Clark says. “But you’ll be able to scope that out yourself.”
The good thing is that it’s fairly easy to figure out how much money you’re going to get from Social Security. Especially if you know you aren’t going to be working any longer (or much longer).
Even if that’s not the case, you can get a great idea of how much your benefit check will become based on the year you plan to take Social Security and your future salaries.
The biggest variable is paying into the system for at least 35 years by earning taxable income.