Funded by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax withholdings from your earnings, Social Security retirement benefits act as a safety net to replace your working income and help you pay for your living expenses. But as of 2021, the Social Security Administration (SSA) reported that the average benefit for a retiree was $1,555 and that very few recipients used this source for at least 90 percent of their retirement earnings. Whether you'll be able to retire on Social Security alone will depend on your future cost of living, preferred lifestyle and the specific payment amount you'll be due upon your chosen retirement age.
To understand how much of your income Social Security might replace, consider how the benefits get calculated. First, you'll need to have worked at least 10 years to qualify at all. The SSA will then look at the 35 years during which you had your highest earnings and apply a formula to determine your potential payment at full retirement, which is between age 66 and 67, depending on your birth year.
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You can retire as young as 62, but this means seeing your monthly benefits cut anywhere from 25 to 30 percent. Retiring as late as 70, however, means you can get an increase in your benefits by up to 8 percent each year. Cost-of-living adjustments will also apply annually and add to the amount you receive in Social Security payments by direct deposit or debit card.
To learn more about your potential benefits based on your lifetime earnings record, you can get a "my Social Security" account through the SSA website. This will require providing your Social Security number and other identifying details. You'll also be able to access a retirement estimator that will let you account for potential earnings changes and adjustments. You can use the calculator to estimate your spouse's benefits too.
Consider also: Information on Your Social Security Account
Estimating Future Living Costs
Once you've looked at your benefit estimates, you can identify and add up all the living costs you expect during retirement and see how far your Social Security benefits will get you. Some of the basics include housing, food, utilities and clothing. However, you'll want to include many other items such as transportation, debt payments, health care costs, insurance, recreational activities, hobbies, personal care needs and miscellaneous expenses.
You'll also want to consider any major purchases you might want to make such as paying for your grandchildren's college or buying a vacation property. Also, inflation will factor in and lead to higher costs after retirement.
Consider also: The Average Cost of Retirement
Assessing Your Future Financial Situation
With your estimated future living costs and Social Security benefits in mind, you'll have a better idea as to whether your Social Security income will suffice for all your needs. You might find that you could be covered as long as you live a modest lifestyle and avoid taking on additional debt, especially if you also have a spouse's benefits to count on. Taking actions such as paying off major debts like mortgages before retirement can help you live more comfortably.
But like many others planning for retirement, you may find that you'll need to utilize other types of income to live comfortably during retirement. While the SSA notes that Social Security benefits typically replace around 40 percent of your income before retirement, Wells Fargo explains that you'll usually need at least 70 percent replaced. You might even need your full income replaced if you plan to live a more luxurious lifestyle.
Using Other Types of Income
Long before retirement, you can stash away money in options such as 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and take distributions alongside your Social Security payments. You can also continue to work a job after you formally retire from working full-time. However, you'll want to keep in mind the SSA's restrictions on income since you can have your Social Security benefits lowered by $1 for every $2 you earn if you have not yet reached your full retirement age and exceed the set earnings limit. The 2021 set earnings limit is $18,960.
Consider also: Which Comes First: Saving for a House or Retirement
- Social Security Administration: Social Security Fact Sheet
- Social Security Administration: Starting Your Retirement Benefits Early
- Social Security Administration: Social Security Benefit Amounts
- Social Security Administration: Your Retirement Checklist
- Social Security Administration: Delayed Retirement Credits
- Social Security Administration: How the Retirement Estimator Works
- Lakeland Financial Services: Estimating Your Retirement Income Needs
- Wells Fargo: Expenses and Income Needs in Retirement
- Social Security Administration: Alternate Measures of Replacement Rates for Social Security Benefits and Retirement Income
- FINRA: Sources of Retirement Income
- Social Security Administration: Receiving Benefits While Working