How Social Security Works

By October 2, 2019 October 16th, 2019 Financial Planning, Retirement, Social Security

We’ve been paying into Social Security from the time we earned our first paychecks as teens or twentysomethings. But what can we expect to get back when we retire ten, fifteen or twenty years from now?

“Nothing!” you cry.

Yeah, yeah, the system needs fixing to stay solvent, but I’m confident that the politicians will come up with a solution for two reasons. Seniors care about Social Security. And seniors always vote.

Right now, the government collects 12.4% of the first $132,900 of our income with half (6.2%) coming out of our paychecks and the other half coming from the employer. (The self-employed pay both halves, but can deduct the “employer half” from their income to level the field with corporate employees.) Because the amount of our income that is taxed for Social Security is limited, the amount of Social Security benefits we can receive in retirement is capped.

The exact amount you or I will receive in retirement depends on two factors. The first is our individual earning history. Social Security will use a worker’s highest 35 years of earnings to calculate the amount she receives monthly in retirement. The second is at what age we elect to collect benefits. For those of us born in 1960 or later, we will receive 100% of what we have earned, from Social Security, if we collect benefits at age 67 – our “Full Retirement Age” or FRA. We can elect to receive benefits as early as 62, but our benefits will be reduced.

Collecting at age… Benefits reduced by…
62 30%
63 25%
64 20%
65 13%
66 7%

We can also delay collecting Social Security benefits past 67 and receive more in monthly benefits as a result.

Collecting at age… Benefits raised by…
68 8%
69 16%
70 24%

For many of us, our earnings history will be what it will be. Years when we stayed out of the official workforce to raise children or take care of aging parents will get factored in as zero earnings years and reduce our ultimate Social Security benefits. Decisions about when to start collecting benefits on our own work record or that of a spouse are complex and deserve careful consideration. Delaying claiming will let your ultimate Social Security benefit grow, yes, but if you are relying on savings to pay the bills until claiming, you may be putting your financial security in retirement at too much risk. This is where a CFP® professional can help guide you towards the right decision.

Eileen McPeake

Author Eileen McPeake

More posts by Eileen McPeake