How to Understand Your Social Security Benefit Amount in 3 Simple Steps

Collecting your Social Security benefits should be fairly straightforward. You spent your working life paying your Social Security taxes, and now that you’ve retired, you’ll get a monthly check to supplement your retirement savings. 

Reality isn’t always that simple, however. Benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) can be confusing, and many people may not receive everything they should.

Are you getting all the SSA and Social Security disability benefits (SSD benefits) you’re entitled to? If you believe something is amiss, an experienced Social Security disability lawyer can help you file an appeal.

Step 1: Know Your Benefit Amount

The first step is to calculate your SSA benefits. The amount you receive each month from the SSA is based on your employment earnings, tallied up from your income tax returns. After age 60, you receive a yearly benefits statement from the SSA showing the qualifying Social Security income you earned and your benefits estimate.

If you don’t have a statement, or if you can’t find yours, you can obtain one online at ssa.gov, contact the Social Security Administration via phone at (800) 772-1213, or contact your local SSA branch office.

The retirement money you receive from Social Security is a percentage of your earnings calculated on a sliding scale. The lower your earned income, the higher percentage you’ll receive from the SSA. You also receive a higher monthly income if you retire at age 70 instead of 62, which is the earliest you can start collecting SS retirement.

Step 2: Understand Your Options for Receiving SSA and Social Security Disability Benefits

Although you may be looking at age 62 as the “magic number” to retire from full-time work and enjoy your Golden Years, you may actually benefit by staying in the workforce for a few more years. 

You may be able to collect some SSA benefits while still working, or you could increase your monthly allotment by pushing your retirement to 65 instead of 62 and not collecting any benefits until then.

Don’t forget to consider the tax implications when deciding when to start supplementing your monthly income with Social Security. Your Social Security income is considered taxable for federal income tax and some state income taxes. 

Look at your income from other sources, such as retirement investments and pensions, before deciding to take your Social Security — you could bump yourself into a higher tax bracket and have a net loss if you take Social Security too soon.

Examine your spousal benefits, too. For example, if your monthly benefit is only $500 but your spouse’s is $2,000, you may be able to claim a spousal benefit (up to 50% of their income) and have a monthly allotment of $1,000 instead of $500. 

If you’ve divorced but have not remarried, you can also benefit from your ex’s Social Security benefits. As long as you were married for more than ten years and are older than 62, you’re entitled to a percentage of their benefits.

If your spouse passed away, you’re eligible for a widow or widower benefit, which you can take at age 60. But like the retirement benefits, this allotment is lower if you take it early, between ages 60 and 65. You can get the full amount of your widow benefit starting at age 70. You might opt to take the benefit at 60 and then switch to your own retirement benefits at age 70.

There are many considerations and exceptions when it comes to maximizing your SSA benefits; if you aren’t sure about the right steps, an experienced SSD benefits lawyer can help you make the smartest choices for your situation.

Step 3: Maximizing Your Benefits if You Receive Social Security Disability Benefits

If you collect SSD benefits until you reach full retirement age, you should receive your full retirement allotment. However, if you choose to take retirement benefits early, at age 60 or 62, then those benefits are permanently reduced — the monthly stipend doesn’t increase at age 65 or 70.

For some people, it may make sense to collect disability until age 70, then switch to full retirement benefits. However, if your retirement benefits are substantially more than the disability amount, even at age 60 or 62, you may want to start collecting retirement early. You can collect only one type of benefit at a time.

Do You Need Help Understanding Your SSA and SSD Benefits?

If you need help regarding your Social Security benefits, fill out our online contact form to schedule an appointment with a Social Security benefits attorney.

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