Workers who contribute a portion of their earnings to the Social Security trust fund with every paycheck build a monthly retirement benefit. The calculation of the benefit amount depends on your lifetime earnings record, as well as your age when you begin taking benefits. If you're curious how large a benefit you've earned, there's an easy way to check.
How to Check Your Benefit
There are several ways to check your Social Security benefit amount, which changes as you continue working and will vary depending on your age when you start the benefits. At one time, the Social Security Administration mailed a Benefit Statement each year to everyone covered by the system, but the agency has discontinued that practice. The easiest method now is to go online to visit the Social Security Retirement Estimator.
Using the Online Estimator
The online Retirement Estimator is available to anyone who's earned enough credits to qualify for benefits. After reaching the page, enter your full name, Social Security number, mother's maiden name, and place of birth. After the system checks your information, it will take you to a page where you'll estimate your earnings from wages and self-employment. The system then returns estimates for three different retirement ages, assuming that you continue to earn the same annual amount until you begin drawing benefits.
The Three Benefit Esimates
The Retirement Estimator returns three monthly benefit amounts: one that begins at age 62, one that begins at your full retirement age, and one that begins age 70. Starting benefits at age 62 reduces the full benefit by about 25 percent, while waiting until age 70 will increase it by about the same percentage. You can input different annual earnings amounts to see how the benefit will rise or fall with your income until your Social Security retirement begins.
Contacting Social Security
This calculator won't function if you're currently applying for benefits or already receiving them. To discuss the benefit amount in those situations, call Social Security directly at 1800-772-1213. You can request a printed Benefit Statement at this number, or review your earnings history by going online and creating a My Social Security account.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.