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Retirement Planning

What you need to know about Social Security

As you approach retirement age, Social Security often becomes an important part of any long-term retirement planning. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about Social Security benefits.
Social Security benefits are an important part of many people's long-term retirement plans. However, understanding the basics of how the Social Security process works can sometimes feel a little bit daunting.

Here's a guide that features some of the most common Social Security FAQs that can help you better understand the process.

How does Social Security work?

While you're employed, you might notice the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes withheld from your paychecks. These taxes help fund the Social Security program.

When it's time to retire, you'll receive those benefits in the form of income every month. Just how much you'll receive depends on how many years you have worked, the wages you've earned while working, and your age when you apply for Social Security benefits, among other factors.

How do I find out my estimated Social Security benefits?

Today, the Social Security Administration (SSA) recommends you create an account online. Once you have registered your account, you can get all sorts of information there.

You'll be able to see an estimate of your Social Security benefits for when you retire, access copies of your social security statements and find some helpful retirement planning tools.

When should I apply for Social Security?

Although you can begin receiving Social Security benefits as early as age 62, that doesn't mean you should. To get the full payout you’re entitled to, you'll need to wait to claim benefits at your full retirement age — for most people today that is around age 66 or 67.

Signing up for benefits before your full retirement age will reduce your monthly benefits. Many retirees use retirement fund savings to provide income while delaying benefits until they reach full retirement age.

If you have the resources, you can try to delay claiming your benefits until age 70. The way Social Security benefits are currently set up, for every month you delay after you've reached full retirement age, your monthly payments will increase, reaching a maximum at age 70.

What do I need to do to claim my benefits?

The SSA recommends that you apply three months before you would like your first payment to arrive. When you apply for benefits, you'll be asked to provide a number of original documents that can include birth and marriage certificates, tax returns and military records, if applicable.

Once approved, you will get your first payment after the first full month that you qualify. If you apply for benefits and are approved on April 4, for example, you won't get your first payment until June, as May will be your first full qualifying month.

How can I maximize my Social Security income?

If you're still working, there are a handful of things you can do that can help potentially increase your Social Security benefit.

One is to wait as long as you can to claim your benefits. The longer you wait, the more income will be available. Another option is to continue working. Part of the equation the SSA uses to calculate your benefit includes the 35 years where you earned the most income. If you're currently working, staying in your job a few more years can help increase those benefits.

Does being married impact benefits?

If you're married, you can also coordinate claiming benefits with your spouse. Married couples are eligible to claim benefits based either on their own work record or up to 50% of the higher earner's benefit — whichever is greater.

However, spousal benefits are reduced if you claim them before your full retirement age. You can increase this benefit by waiting until you have reached full retirement age.

The more you learn about Social Security benefits, the better positioned you will be to make the best decisions for your financial future. You can also work with an advisor who will help guide you through the process and work with you to figure out a plan before it's time to retire.



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