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The perfect recipe for retirement

Social Security News: Alan Edwards


Succulent turkey. Savory stuffing. Green bean casserole. Sweet potato and pumpkin pie. Every family has its holiday dinner traditions. With a carefully followed recipe, everyone around the table can enjoy their favorite dishes.

If you plan poorly and wait to throw the bird in the oven at the last minute, you will end up with a turkey of a dish. The same can be said for financial planning and preparing for retirement. Follow the perfect recipe and you’ll be rewarded with a juicy retirement.

Ingredients: one part Social Security earnings, one part savings, a pinch of planning.

First, start your retirement casserole with a visit to the Retirement Estimator. As useful as a food processor, the Estimator gives you an instant projection of what you can expect to receive in retirement benefits. Just plug in some simple information and the Estimator uses your past earnings and estimated future earnings to project about how much you’ll get when you retire. Like an experienced cook, you can experiment with the recipe and plug in different future earnings and retirement dates until it’s just the way you want it.

Next, fold in the savings. The earlier you begin, the better off you will be. Social Security replaces about 40 percent of the average worker’s pre-retirement earnings. Most financial advisors say you will need 70 percent or more of pre-retirement earnings to live comfortably. To supplement Social Security you also will need savings, investments, pensions, or retirement accounts to make sure you have enough money to enjoy retirement. Visit the Ballpark Estimator for tips to help you save. www.choosetosave.org/ballpark.

If you have a pension from your employer or a 401k, IRA or similar retirement fund, be sure to add that into the mix.

Like to taste as you cook? Then you’ll want to set up a “my Social Security” account so you can log in anytime to check your reported earnings and projected benefit estimates. If something doesn’t taste just right — if your earnings are reported incorrectly or you find you need to save more to meet your retirement goals — there’s still time to make corrections before your retirement casserole is done.

Once you’ve added the ingredients of Social Security earnings, personal savings, and any pensions you may have, it’s time to let the retirement casserole bake.

If you pull the retirement casserole out to find it a little underdone, just put it back in for a bit longer. Delaying retirement can increase your benefits and give you more time to build up your savings. To learn more, read our publication entitled When To Start Receiving Retirement Benefits. It provides helpful information regarding the things you should consider when making a decision on when to collect retirement benefits. You will find it, along with our other useful publications, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

When the retirement casserole is ready, enjoy it! You deserve a comfortable retirement. Following a traditional Thanksgiving recipe carefully can ensure a satisfying meal. In the same way, following our financial planning recipe will help you achieve a more fulfilling retirement. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov.

Social Security Q&A

Question: I got an email that says it’s from Social Security, but I’m not so sure. They want me to reply with my Social Security number, date of birth, and mother’s maiden name for “verification.” Did it really come from Social Security?

Answer: No. Social Security will not send you an email asking you to share your personal information, such as your Social Security number, date of birth, or other private information. Beware of such scams — they’re after your information so they can use it for their own benefit. When in doubt, or if you have any questions about correspondence you receive from Social Security, contact your local Social Security office or call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to see whether we really need any information from you.

Question: What are the benefit amounts for which a spouse may be entitled?

Answer: A spouse receives one-half of the retired worker’s full benefit if the spouse retires at full retirement age. If the spouse begins collecting benefits before full retirement age, we reduce those benefits by a percentage based on how much earlier the spouse retires. However, if a spouse is taking care of a child who is either under age 16 or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits, a spouse gets full (one-half) benefits, regardless of age.

If you are eligible for both your own retirement benefit and for benefits as a spouse, we always pay your own benefit first. If your benefit as a spouse is higher than your retirement benefit, you’ll receive a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse’s benefit. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov.

Question: Are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments only paid to people with disabilities?

Answer: No. SSI payments also are made to people who are blind or who are age 65 or older — as long as they meet all the qualifications including having low income and limited resources. SSI benefits are available for both adults and children who are blind or disabled.

Question: My wife and I plan on visiting the grandchildren over the winter, during which time my wife will turn 62. Can she apply for retirement benefits in another state, or do we have to wait until we get back home to apply for retirement at our local Social Security office?

Answer: These days, you don’t have to be near a Social Security office to apply for benefits. Regardless of where you and your wife are living or traveling, you can apply for retirement benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyonline. It’s so easy to do, and it can take as little as 15 minutes to complete and submit the application. In most cases, once you submit your application electronically, you’re done. You can go back to enjoying your grandchildren.

You can learn more about SSI benefits and who can receive them by reading our online publications. To begin, refer to the online booklet, Supplemental Security Income, available to read or listen to in our online library at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.