Collecting Social Security in retirement may seem light years away, but it's a wise financial move to stay on top of your future benefits now. "Just as people monitor their credit on an annual basis, make sure you check your Social Security earnings history," says Marguerita Cheng, a certified financial planner and the CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth.
This fall, the Social Security Administration made it easier to do that review — and assess how much you stand to collect once you retire. The government agency redesigned benefit statements to give current and future beneficiaries a simplified overview of their benefits.
Here's how to figure out how much money you might get from Social Security when you retire and how to stay on top of your earnings records to ensure you'll get the maximum benefit you're entitled to.
"My first tip is for everyone, even my Gen Z daughter, to sign up and create an online account at ssa.gov," says Cheng.
Creating a "my Social Security account" is the only way to check the accuracy of your earnings history if you're under 60. Otherwise, you'll have to wait until three months before your 60th birthday to receive a paper statement in the mail.
The redesigned statements include a new graph with benefit estimates. The agency calculates your average monthly earnings based on your 35 highest earning years. By creating an account, you'll see the amount you're expected to receive in monthly benefits if you claim at nine different ages.
You can claim Social Security as early as age 62 but only at a permanently reduced rate. You're entitled to claim your full benefit once you reach retirement age, a milestone that varies by your birth year. Waiting to claim benefits until you're 70 will result in the highest monthly payment.
Video by Mariam Abdallah
The size of your Social Security payment will be based on income from your working years, when you were born, the age when you decide to start receiving benefits, and inflation. It's not unusual to see errors on your earning record, says Cheng, and "it is much easier to correct as you go, as opposed to waiting until you retire."
It's important to check your earnings statement annually because there's a time limit for correcting your earnings record. You have three years, three months, and 15 days after the tax year in question to report an error. After that, Social Security will not make revisions except in a handful of circumstances.
Problems with your earnings history occur for a variety of reasons, says Cheng. "Some errors may include an incorrect Social Security number, a different name, a delay in reporting, or omission from your employer," she says.
Even if the mistake isn't your fault, "it is definitely your responsibility to report, and the Social Security Administration may follow up with your employer," Cheng says.
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