When you think of how you’ll fund your retirement, Social Security probably comes to mind. This government program pays benefits to qualified retirees and their families and can supplement other income sources, such as a pension and employer-sponsored retirement plan. The program’s rules are complex, but understanding the basics can help you maximize your benefit. Here are answers to common questions.
What does Social Security provide?
When you qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, you get:
- Monthly income for life; the amount varies depending on the age at which you file and your lifetime earnings
- A yearly cost-of-living adjustment to help make up for inflation
- Tax advantages; at least 15% of your benefit will be nontaxable but it could be more depending on your filing status, additional earnings and the state where you live1
- Survivor benefits; a surviving widow or widower can receive reduced benefits as early as age 601
Will Social Security provide all the income I need in retirement?
Most likely not. Social Security might replace only about 40% of your pre-retirement income.2 You might need to replace about 80% of your pre-retirement income to maintain your standard of living.3
How is Social Security calculated?
Your benefit is based on your lifetime Social Security earnings, income on which you paid Social Security taxes throughout your work life. The maximum amount you can receive is determined by the age at which you claim benefits.4
For a personal estimate of your Social Security retirement benefits, create a “my Social Security” account at my Social Security | SSA.
When can you file for Social Security?
You can start collecting Social Security as early as age 62, but that could permanently reduce your benefits by up to 30%.1 The amount you receive increases each year that you wait to file between ages 62 and 70 (see “Delaying Social Security” chart). Key things to know:
- If you file at your full retirement age, you receive 100% of your benefit; that age falls between 66 and 67 depending on your birth year (see eligibility chart)
- Once you reach full retirement age, you’ll receive 8% more each year that you wait to file until age 70; if your full retirement age is 67, waiting could increase your monthly benefit by up to 24%