Social Security is a huge part of your retirement plan so you need to ask yourself: How much Social Security will I get?

Here’s the problem: there are over a dozen Social Security calculators you can use online and there isn’t one clear choice.

All of them are estimates, because you won’t know exact amounts until you file for Social Security. Here’s why:

  • Your earnings history will change so each calculator handles this in a different way.
  • COLA increases your benefit amount but there’s no way to know COLA until the government comes out with it annually in November for the following year.
  • Benefit amounts are more difficult to estimate if you had military service, railroad employment, or earned a pension that you didn’t get taxed (Postal employees, etc.)

The good news is, you can get a Social Security estimate that will allow you to make a smart decision. Sure, it may be a $20-30 per month different when you actually file, but many of these tools give you a number that’s close enough.

How Much Social Security Will I Get Based On My Income

Your income plays the largest factor in how much Social Security you’ll get when you file. Then based on the year you were born and what age you decide to file make up the two other big factors.

Your Social Security payment is calculated based on your highest 35-years of income. Then divide by 420 to get your AIME and push that amount through the bend-point formula to get your PIA. The PIA is the amount you’ll receive at full retirement age.

The higher income you make, the more Social Security you’ll get. But here’s the thing: Social Security is progressive. Lower income earners get more on a relative basis than higher income earners. That’s the entire purpose of the bend-point formula.

You’ll see this in the calculators too. For instance, if you input $250,000 in annual income versus $100,000 in annual income, the monthly increase in Social Security is only about $330 per month.

social security calculator

“Not Fair!” you may say? You could argue it either way. High income earners don’t have to pay payroll tax on income above a certain amount ($127,200 in 2017). Low income earners get more Social Security per dollar of income they earn. It may be a wash in the end. It may be a hair skewed.

But that’s not why we’re here. We want to focus on the question – how much Social Security will I get?

List of Social Security Calculators – Pros and Cons

There are a bunch of different options out there. You need to know which calculator works best for your specific retirement scenario. Let’s take a look at the following calculators to see: How Much Social Security Will I Get?

  • SSA’s Retirement Estimator
  • CFPB’s Planning for Retirement
  • Financial Engines’ Social Security Retirement Calculator
  • CRR at Boston College’s Target Your Retirement
  • AARP’s Social Security Benefits Calculator
  • Bankrate’s Social Security Calculator

Social Security Administration’s Retirement Estimator

One of the most popular calculators online comes straight from the Social Security Administration (SSA) itself. This calculator is straight forward and simple to use. Input six (6) fields and press the button. Here’s what the output looks like:

How Much Social Security Will I Get

The first time you run the calculator, you’ll get feedback on the amount you’ll get for Social Security at 62, FRA, and 70. Then you can input different incomes from current until the date you retire. I input a low, medium, and high wage just to see the differences in the monthly Social Security amount.

PROS:

  • Uses your earnings history so accuracy is improved
  • Run by the SSA so feels like you’re getting accuracy (not sure if this actually matters)
  • Easy to use – only 6 input fields
  • You can adjust annual income until retirement age and run different scenarios

CONS:

  • You have to input actual user data for this to work
  • Calculator doesn’t take into consideration spousal benefits

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) – Planning for Retirement

This calculator is my favorite to answer the question: how much Social Security will I get?

It’s incredibly simple to use and takes a multi-tiered data input approach to looking at how much you’ll get. The first data input is simply to enter your date of birth and the highest annual earnings you received. That’s it…and that’s why I think it’s the most powerful. Software is only as good as the end user. If the software is great but doesn’t provide a good user experience, then no one will use it.

The first step is to input your date of birth and highest annual income achieved:

CFPB Calculator

Then you’ll get a great output chart that shows you an estimate of the Social Security you’ll receive at which age:

cfpb calculator

Slide the button between ages to see how much of a difference you’ll likely get from Social Security.

The second step is to answer five questions covering marital status and expected retirement age, spending habits, income sources, and longevity.

cfpb step two

 

The third step is to answer the age at which you plan to claim Social Security benefits.

cfpb step three

PROS:

  • Ease of use – only 2 inputs on the first step
  • You don’t have to input your personal data
  • Gives a good view of the different Social Security amounts depending on the age you file

CONS:

  • The thing I noticed about this calculator is that it doesn’t always work. The tool relies on the Social Security website to pull data. If the Social Security website is down, this tool will be down. Not a huge deal. Just try again later.
  • Also, it provides a very rough estimate because this tool doesn’t know your actual earnings history. It simply estimates your earnings history through factors associated with your age and date of birth.

Financial Engines’ Social Security Retirement Calculator

Financial Engines is a pretty nice website and one that aligns with what we do here on Optimize Your Retirement. They have retirement planning tools on their website, but it appears that their main money maker is financial planning.

But their Social Security Retirement Calculator is completely free and you don’t even have to give them your personal information.

Step one is to input your name, date of birth, annual salary, gender, and marital status.

Financial Engines Step 1

You may also put your spouse’s information just below your information.

Then in step two you can review the output:

Financial Engines Calculator

Financial Engines Output

And then ask the tool to optimize your Social Security. It basically shows you what you’d get if you’d delayed taking Social Security until the max age.

Financial Engine Optimization

And then after the Social Security optimization calculator, Financial Engines invites you to sign up to see how your retirement income sources work together. I haven’t signed up to complete this part of the tool.

Financial Engines Review

PROS:

  • Having the ability to include your spouse on Social Security payment estimates
  • You do not have to input your personal data (until Step 4 if you go that far)
  • Nice interface and overall website

CONS:

  • Notice anything about the annual Social Security payment output? It’s constant. There is no annual increase figured into the calculation once benefits are claimed. This is because no one really knows what the SSA will do with Social Security increase from one year to the next.
  • The accuracy of Social Security payment output is put into question. It seems high to me but without knowing how Financial Engines calculates the amount, I can’t be sure. It’s an estimate just like the previous tools. No calculator will give you 100% accuracy.

CRR at Boston College – Target Your Retirement

The Target Your Retirement tool recommends doing three different things to close the gap between your projected income in retirement and the amount you’re likely to spend in retirement.

  1. Reduce Spending
  2. Work Longer
  3. Downsize your home or pull the equity out of your home

The below screen print shows the input fields on step one of the calculator:

CRRB Financial Security

This is the first section you input data. Then there are three more short sections for a total of four sections prior to generating results.

Screen Shot 2017-02-04 at 8.33.37 PM

This tool gives you a more holistic view of your retirement savings. It’s not just calculating Social Security. It takes into consideration the amount you have saved for retirement currently and also how much you’re saving each month.

After you input your results, a bar graph appears showing monthly retirement income from Social Security, retirement savings, and pensions. And then you can adjust levers for expenses, age of retirement, and downsizing or taking a reverse mortgage on your house.

PROS:

  • Provides a more holistic view of retirement
  • You can adjust the assumptions quite easily
  • You can easily print the report to take to your financial advisor

CONS:

  • Like the rest of the calculators, this relies on estimated earnings for Social Security.

AARP –  Social Security Benefits Calculator

The AARP calculator shows estimated Social Security monthly benefit at each claiming age from 62 through 70.

AARP

Step one inputs are date of birth, salary, and marital status:

AARP Step 1

Step two shows the estimated monthly Social Security amount by age:

AARP Step 2

Step three shows you how much retirement expenses are covered by your Social Security payment. You can adjust both the expenses by category and the Social Security claiming age.

 

AARP Step 3

One of the things you don’t usually see with these calculators is the answer to what happens if I continue to work after I claim Social Security. The AARP calculator includes an analysis of this issue in step three.

What if I keep working

This chart also shows you that it’s okay to have some of your benefits withheld from 62 to full retirement age; they will be paid back to you later.

PROS:

  • Huge Pro – The ability to see what will happen if you work while claiming early Social Security benefits.
  • You don’t have to put in your personal data
  • Allows you to adjust expenses and retirement date in step three

CONS

  • Current salary assumption is that it grows at a constant rated

Bankrate – Social Security Calculator

Good ole’ Bankrate has a super simple one page calculator with output. Simply input current age, age of retirement, annual income, expected salary increase, and expected rate of inflation.

Bankrate Social Security Calculator

The output is a simple bar graph with monthly Social Security payment on the y axis and the age you begin taking benefits along the x axis.

PROS:

  • Easy to use
  • Married users can check a box that adds a non-working spouse’s benefit
  • Finally, you can adjust the expected rate of inflation!

CONS:

  • It doesn’t appear that you can add in data for your working spouse (this is limiting)
  • Earnings history is estimated, not actual

Assumptions – How Much Social Security Will I Get?

SSA’s Retirement Estimator

If you’re close to filing Social Security – say, a year or two out – this tool is very accurate at answering the question: How much Social Security will I get?

SSA’s Retirement Estimator includes your actual earnings history. And if you’re close to retirement, trying to guess future wages and law changes becomes irrelevant.

But it’s still an estimate. You won’t actually know your exact Social Security amount until you file and hear back from the SSA.

CFPB’s Planning for Retirement 

This tool used data (both pre-FRA reduction factors and post-FRA delayed retirement credits) from the Social Security Administration’s website. This is great news for mathematical accuracy; however, you’re still receiving an estimate. 

Financial Engines’ Social Security Retirement Calculator

The payment amounts are given in today’s dollars, not future dollars.

CRR at Boston College’s Target Your Retirement

This calculator assumes prior earnings grew at the same rate as nation average earnings which are taken from the SSA’s wage index. It also assumes you stop working once you receive benefits.

AARP’s Social Security Benefits Calculator

The AARP calculator assumes inflation and future earnings increase at 2.5% annually, but the user is able to change this rate. The earnings history is estimated based on your income and age. 

Bankrate’s Social Security Calculator

The Bankrate Social Security Calculator  assumes future annual increases in earnings and inflation of 3 percent. You can change it if you want. It’s the only calculator included here that allows the user to adjust the rate of inflation and earnings increases. Bankrate also shows output numbers in future dollars, not today’s dollars.

Conclusion – How Much Social Security Will I Get?

You have many options at your fingertips to answer the question: How much Social Security will I get? Each tool provides a different take based on slight variations in the way earnings and future increases are calculated. 

I suggest running at least 2 different calculators to see how much Social Security you will get. Remember that they’re all estimates, even the SSA’s Retirement Estimator.