Estimating Retirement Benefits Using the My Social Security Portal

Note: This post is part of the Social Security Series. Follow the link to see all of my Social Security-related posts.

The My Social Security portal is a vital source of information for anyone planning their retirement or wanting to incorporate Social Security benefits into their financial independence (FI) plan. The portal, hosted by the Social Security Administration, enables workers of all ages to confirm retirement benefits eligibility, view earnings history, estimate Social Security retirement benefits, and more.

Logging Into the My Social Security Portal

If you have never logged into the My Social Security portal, you can create a new Login.gov or ID.me account or use existing credentials. I use a Login.gov account, which enables me to access the Social Security portal and other government sites, including Trusted Traveler Program (TSA PreCheck and Global Entry) and USAJobs.

Three buttons showing the three login options for the My Social Security portal. The options include, "Sign in with Login.gov", "Sign in with ID.me", and "Sign in with Social Security Username"
My Social Security Login Options

FI Road Tip: The “Sign in with Social Security Username” option is a legacy option. All new users need to select from the Login.gov or ID.me options. If you have a Social Security username, you must start using Login.gov or ID.me credentials before September 2024.

How to Confirm Social Security Retirement Benefits Eligibility

After logging into the My Social Security portal, a summary of your Social Security retirement benefits eligibility appears.

To qualify for retirement benefits, you need 40 “work credits.” You can earn up to four credits each year. Therefore, to accumulate the 40 required credits, you must work for at least 10 years.

Social Security retirement benefits eligibility graphic showing four green bars and a green checkmark. Above the four green bars there is a message stating, "You have the 40 work credits you need to receive benefits!"
Social Security Retirement Benefits Eligibility Graphic – Green Means Go!

The earned income required to earn one work credit adjusts for inflation each year. In 2024, you earn one credit for every $1,730 of wages and/or self-employment income. At $6,920 of earned income, you complete accumulating work credits for the year.

FI Road Tip: You must earn 40 work credits to receive Social Security retirement benefits. You will not receive any benefits even if you earn 39 work credits. Check the My Social Security portal to confirm you have earned all 40 work credits.

FI Road Tip: The criteria above apply to retirement benefits only. Different criteria exist for Social Security disability, spousal, and survivor benefits eligibility. You can consult the Social Security Credits page for details on those benefits.

Relive the Past By Reviewing Your Earnings Record

One of the coolest parts of the My Social Security portal is the ability to review your lifetime earnings record. On the portal home page click the “Review your full earnings record now” link. It is located below the benefit eligibility graphic.

The earnings report page displays your taxed Social Security and Medicare earnings for every year from the first year you worked up to last year. It is not only helpful for verifying your taxed Social Security and Medicare earnings. It is also a great way to reminisce on all your jobs and experiences; everything from receiving tips as a server at Denny’s to developing products for a Fortune 100 company.

FI Road Tip: Review this page annually to ensure that it reflects the correct total of taxed earnings, especially if you switch jobs during the year, hold multiple jobs, or have self-employment income. Your monthly retirement benefits are calculated using your taxed Social Security earnings. Underreported earnings will negatively impact your benefits.

FI Road Tip: As I explained in my Social Security in 2024 – It’s Not All Bad News post, there is an annual cap on the amount of earned income taxed for Social Security. For example, the cap in 2024 is $168,600. If your taxed Social Security earnings for a particular year on the earnings report page are less than your actual earned income, check the earned income cap for Social Security taxes for the year in question. You likely exceeded the earned income cap for that year and received the benefit of earning some Social Security tax-exempt income. Score!

Estimating Your Retirement Benefits with the Retirement Calculator

The My Social Security portal’s Retirement Calculator tries to answer the all-important question:

How much money will I receive in retirement from Social Security?

The first thing you see at the top of the retirement calculator is your estimated monthly benefit when you reach full retirement age. Full retirement age for anyone born in 1960 or later is currently 67. For people born before 1960, see the Starting Your Retirement Benefits Early page on the Social Security site for your full retirement age.

My Social Security Portal Retirement Calculator example. It shows a graph of monthly retirement benefits based on the age that you start receiving benefits and toggles to change the age to receive benefits, average future annual salary, and compare with benefits as a spouse
My Social Security Portal Retirement Calculator example

In the middle of the calculator is a graph showing three monthly benefit values by default:

  • Leftmost Value – monthly benefit if you choose to start receiving benefits at age 62, the earliest age possible to receive benefits
  • Middle Value – monthly benefit if you choose to start receiving benefits at full retirement age
  • Rightmost Value – monthly benefit if you choose to start receiving benefits at age 70, the oldest age to start receiving benefits

FI Road Tip: Your monthly benefit is set when you choose to start receiving benefits. Afterward, the monthly amount you receive only changes based on an annual cost of living adjustment (COLA). Let’s look at an example using the sample calculator above. If this person chose to start receiving Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, they would receive $1,408 each month. Their monthly benefits would not increase to $2,000 by age 67. The only increase to the $1,408 benefit would come via an annual COLA provided by the government.

Adjusting Retirement Calculator Assumptions

The calculator includes three settings that can be tweaked to simulate different scenarios:

  1. Age to Start Receiving Benefits – Above the graph is a dropdown and below the graph is a slider that enable you to select a specific age to start receiving benefits. You select the age and month, for example, 65 years and 6 months. Your monthly benefit increases by a small percentage each month you delay receiving benefits beyond age 62. You can adjust this setting to see how your monthly benefit changes at certain ages
  2. Average Future Annual Salary – You can set this value to what you expect to earn annually in future years until you reach full retirement age. By default, it uses your taxed earnings from the prior year as your salary for all future years. Social Security benefits are calculated based on your 35 highest earning years adjusted for inflation. Therefore, the future annual salary that you input can significantly alter your estimated future monthly benefit
  3. Compare with Spousal Benefits – You can use this setting to compare your monthly benefit amount with your spousal benefit amount. This is outside the scope of this post but perhaps I’ll dive into this topic in the future

You can use the calculator to model the optimal age to start receiving benefits based on your income needs during retirement.

FI Road Tip: If you are married, look at the My Social Security portal for you and your spouse separately. You will each need your own, unique login to access your personalized portals

My Social Security Portal as a Financial Independence Companion

In my post Social Security Solvency – Solving It Now vs. Later I reviewed options for putting Social Security back on solid footing. In the worst outcomes, scheduled retirement benefits are cut by 20-25% for all beneficiaries; not by 100%. This means that Social Security should play a role in FI calculations.

In my next post, I will review some limitations of the Retirement Calculator provided by the Social Security Administration. These limitations particularly impact people who have a significant number of years to work and those who are 5+ years away from claiming retirement benefits.

Retirement calculator limitations aside, the ability to confirm benefit eligibility, review lifetime earnings, and learn more about Social Security make the My Social Security portal an essential financial planning tool for everyone.

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