How Big Will My Social Security Check Be in Retirement?

Take these simple steps to estimate your monthly benefits.

Social Security will probably make up a significant part of your retirement income, but do you know how much you’ll receive? Figuring out your monthly benefit will help you make other decisions, ranging from when to stop working to how to invest your savings. So let’s take a look at how your benefits are calculated and how you can get an estimate of your monthly check.

You qualify for retirement benefits as long as you’ve worked for at least 10 years in jobs or self-employment that’s covered by Social Security. Your monthly payment will be based on the total of your taxed earnings in the 35 highest-paid years of your career. You’re eligible to file for benefits at age 62, but if you do your benefits will be reduced. Wait until your full retirement age, which ranges from 65 to 67 depending on when you were born, and your monthly checks will be bigger. You can pocket even more money by waiting until age 70 to claim benefits.

Social Security offers a tool you can use to get a personalized estimate of your benefits. You can’t use it if you’re currently receiving benefits, have applied for benefits or are 62 or older and receiving benefits on someone else’s record. Go to Social Security’s Web site and search for its “Retirement Estimator.” Type in your full name, Social Security number and date of birth, the state where you were born and your mother’s maiden name. After you’ve hit submit, fill in last year’s wages or net self-employment income. After you’ve hit submit a second time, the tool will calculate your benefits based on your earnings history.

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You should receive estimates for the amount you’ll receive at age 62, benefits at full retirement age, and the maximum you’ll receive if you wait until age 70 to file. You can tweak these estimates to see what will happen if you work longer.

Want to learn more about claiming your retirement benefits? Read 10 things you must know about Social Security.

Sandra Block
Senior Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Block joined Kiplinger in June 2012 from USA Today, where she was a reporter and personal finance columnist for more than 15 years. Prior to that, she worked for the Akron Beacon-Journal and Dow Jones Newswires. In 1993, she was a Knight-Bagehot fellow in economics and business journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has a BA in communications from Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va.