retirement

How to Estimate Your Social Security Benefit

The benefit estimate is based on your past earnings and a projection of your future income.

How often should I be receiving a Social Security benefits statement in the mail, and what information does it show? Is this the best way to estimate how much I’ll get from Social Security? -- M.D., San Francisco

You’ll receive a statement once every five years from age 25 to 60, then annually until you start receiving benefits. The statements are mailed three months before your birthday. But you can get a benefit estimate anytime with a My Social Security account (www.ssa.gov/myaccount).

The benefit estimate is based on your past earnings and a projection of your future income, which assumes your income will remain at the same level as the previous year until you retire. You could get more than the estimate if you end up earning more in the future or less if your income drops, says Tim Steffen, director of financial planning for Robert W. Baird & Co.The estimate also assumes you continue to work until you take benefits at age 62, at full retirement age or at age 70, so it’s less helpful if you plan to retire at a different time. Use the “online calculator” or the more precise (and more complicated) “detailed calculator” at www.ssa.gov/planners to enter your future earnings estimates.

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