2011-04-01 / Columnists

Social Security And You

Figuring Out Retirement
By John D’Agostino Manager, Far Rockaway Social Security Office

For almost every American worker, Social Security is “part of the plan” for a secure retirement. If you are among the roughly 95 percent of workers in the United States who are covered under Social Security, here’s a primer on retirement coverage.

When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn “credits” toward Social Security benefits. If you were born in 1929, or later, you need 40 credits or 10 years of work to qualify for retirement benefits. No retirement benefits can be paid until you have the required number of credits. If you stop working before you have enough credits to qualify for benefits, the credits will remain on your Social Security record. If you return to work later, you can add more credits so that you qualify.

Your benefit amount is based on how much you earned during your working career. Higher lifetime earnings result in higher benefits. A worker with average earnings can expect a retirement benefit that replaces about 40 percent of his or her average lifetime earnings.

Social Security was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire. You also will need other savings, investments, pensions, or retirement accounts to make sure you have enough money to live comfortably when you retire.

Your benefit payment also is affected by the age at which you decide to retire and begin receiving benefits. If you were born in 1942 or earlier, you already are eligible for your full Social Security benefit. If you were born from 1943 to 1960, the age at which full retirement benefits are payable increases gradually to age 67.

You can get Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, but if you retire before your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced, based on your age. If you retire at age 62, your benefit would be about 25 percent lower than what it would be if you waited until you reach full retirement age. You may choose to keep working even beyond your full retirement age. If you do, you can increase your future Social Security benefits — up until age 70.

Choosing when to retire is an important decision, but it’s also a personal choice and one you should carefully consider. When’s the best time? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Social Security offers a list of factors to consider in the publication When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits at www.social security.gov/pubs/10147.html. In addition, Social Security provides an online Retirement Estimator to get immediate and personalized retirement benefit estimates to help you plan for your retirement. The Retirement Estimator is a convenient and secure financial planning tool, allowing you to create “what if” scenarios.

For instance, you can change your “stop work” dates or expected future earnings to create and compare different retirement options.

If you have a few minutes, you have time to check it out at www.socialse curity.gov/estimator.

When you’re ready, you can apply online for retirement benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov or call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800- 325-0778). Or, you can make an appointment to visit any Social Security office to apply in person.

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