Social Security plays an essential role in the financial foundation of older adults. Approximately 65 million Americans receive Social Security payments annually.1 As you prepare for your golden years and retirement, it's important to understand how your Social Security benefit is calculated, how much money you'll receive each month, and the factors that may impact your payment. Read on to familiarize yourself with this critical information. Armed with this knowledge, you can ensure your overall retirement plan fits your financial and lifestyle needs.
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How Much Social Security Will I Get?
The total Social Security benefit payment varies by individual, as it is based on your personal situation. Four key factors described below affect how your monthly Social Security benefit is calculated: your birth year, claiming age, earnings history, and work history. In 2021, Social Security payments can range from $1,277 to $3,895, depending on these four factors.
Factors That Impact How Much Social Security You Will Get
At age 62, you can begin receiving a portion of your Social Security benefit. However, to be paid 100 percent of the benefit for which you qualify, you must reach your full retirement age, which is based on the year you were born. Currently, the full retirement age for individuals born between 1943 and 1954 is 66. Individuals born between 1955 and 1959 reach 100 percent after 66 years plus a specific number of months. For example, if you were born in 1957, your full retirement age is 66 and six months. For those born after 1960, full retirement age and 100 percent eligibility is at age 67.
When you decide to claim your Social Security benefit greatly impacts how much you'll receive. As mentioned above, you can begin claiming Social Security as early as age 62. However, you will receive a reduced portion of your benefit, not 100 percent. If you choose to wait until your full retirement age to claim Social Security benefits, you will receive 100 percent. Delaying Your Social Security benefit until age 70, the age when your benefits peak, will result in an increase in your monthly payment above 100 percent.
The more you have earned over the lifetime of your career, the more you have paid into the U.S. Federal payroll tax, known as the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). FICA helps fund Social Security and Medicare programs.
Did You Know: If you have not been employed or don't have enough Social Security credits to qualify for Social Security benefits, you may be eligible to receive Social Security spousal benefits. Obtain a rough estimate with the Social Security Benefits for Spouses calculator.
Your average Social Security payment is based upon your highest-earning 35 years of work history. Year(s) not spent in the workforce will count as a zero, thus affecting your average payment. Examples of a “zero year” include taking time to raise a family, spouse or parent caregiving, or being unemployed.
What Is the Average Social Security Payment?
Average Social Security Payment
According to the Social Security Administration, the average estimated monthly Social Security payment in 2021 after the 1.3 percent cost-of-living (COLA) increase is*:
|All retired workers||$1,543|
|Aged couple, both receiving benefits||$2,596|
|Widowed mother and two children||$3,001|
|Aged widow(er) alone||$1,453|
|Disabled worker, spouse and one or more children||$2,224|
|All disabled workers||$1,277|
*Data for this table is based on the 2021 Social Security Fact Sheet2
Maximum Social Security Payment
The Social Security Administration reports the maximum monthly Social Security benefit for individuals is based on when they file for Social Security. In 2021, the most an individual can receive if filing at age 62 is $2,324. For individuals filing at full retirement age in 2021, the maximum is $3,148. For those who wait to file until age 70, the maximum monthly benefit is $3,895.3
Pro Tip: You can boost your Social Security benefit. AARP notes if you wait longer than your full retirement age to claim Social Security, you can earn delayed retirement credits to increase your eventual benefit by two-thirds of one percent for every month you wait.
Ways to Estimate Your Social Security Benefit for Retirement
With so many varying factors, estimating your Social Security benefit can be a challenging task. Take advantage of these four useful ways to calculate the most accurate retirement benefit estimates:
- Create a free my Social Security account. Setting up an account with the Social Security Administration gives you access to personalized estimates based on your earnings history on file.
- Call the Social Security Administration. If you don't have access to a computer or simply prefer to speak to someone over the phone to receive a benefit estimate, contact Social Security's national toll-free number: 1-800-772-1213. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call their toll-free TTY number: 1-800-325-0778.
- Use the Social Security Quick Calculator. For a basic calculation pulled from your date of birth and earning history, the Social Security Administration's Quick Calculator provides a rough estimate. Note: quick calculators do not access your official record (as with the my Social Security account).
- Request an up-to-date Social Security statement. For a hard copy of your Social Security information on file, complete the SSA-7004 form. You'll receive a mailed statement of your earning history, an estimate of how much you have paid in Social Security taxes, and an estimate of your Social Security benefits.
Did You Know: If you're currently receiving Medicare and are in the process of deciding when to start receiving your Social Security retirement benefits, the Social Security Administration will provide you with an updated benefit estimate.
Things to Keep in Mind When Estimating How Much Social Security You Will Get
A valuable part of your retirement planning strategy should include estimating how much Social Security you will get. Older adults living solely on Social Security may face financial strain. We spoke with Andrew Meadows, Senior VP of HR, Brand, and Culture at Ubiquity Retirement + Savings, about the gap between Social Security benefits and overall financial retirement needs. “One of the biggest sticker shocks around Social Security is that it's likely not enough for you to pay your bills once you retire,” notes Meadows. “The idea around retirement started with the three-legged stool: Social Security, pensions, and personal savings (like a 401(k)). Understanding how Social Security fits into your financial health is a powerful way to be prepared for when retirement comes up for you.
These key factors can impact your estimated Social Security benefits, so keep them in mind as you work through your calculations:
- There is a cap on earnings known as the maximum taxable earnings limit. The cap on Social Security taxation for 2021 is $142,800.4 If the cap has been met, there will not be any additional Social Security tax deducted from your paycheck.
- Estimating Social Security benefits does not provide a concrete figure. The number calculated is simply an estimate. You won't know the exact figure until an official claim has been placed.
- A COLA is updated annually. The Social Security COLA adjustment for 2021 is 1.3 percent.5
- Increases (or decreases) in your earned income will affect your official benefits.
- If you have worked less than a total of 35 years, your benefits will be reduced as years out of the workforce are calculated as “zero” years.
- The Social Security Administration's governing laws and regulations on Social Security can change. Keep coming back to SeniorLiving.org for the latest on Social Security.
Did You Know: In addition to Social Security, older adults may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).6 This federal benefit is available to those 65 and older, the disabled, and the blind who have limited income and resources.