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Social Security Calculator

Rules & Assumptions


GENERAL
  • Our Social Security calculator provides estimated Social Security retirement benefit, spouse survivor benefit and investment cash flow streams for retirement ages 62, Full Retirement Age (FRA) and 70 for you and your spouse (though the calculator can only handle the option of starting your retirement benefit at three ages, the Social Security Administration allows you to take your benefit at any point between age 62 and 70).
  • By default, calculations end in the year of your 100th birthday, or the year of the 100th birthday of the oldest of the couple. Lifespan inputs of anywhere between 62 and 100 years of age, for both worker and spouse, allow you to evaluate multiple scenarios of life expectancy
  • The impact on cash flows from expenses, taxes and non-Social Security income is NOT considered. Income categories that may impact benefits but are not considered include government pensions and non-retirement Social Security benefits, i.e. auxiliary, disability and family benefits. Benefits are NOT limited by "family maximums". Non-Social Security related income categories that may impact benefits but are not considered include pensions, annuities, IRA distributions and investment income.
  • Investment Gains provided by the calculator are those you and your spouse earn from banking every dollar of Social Security retirement and spouse survivor benefit at the 4.0% (default) "Investment Rate". This approach lets you compare, for each retirement option, the total amount of money generated by Social Security including the earnings from investing those benefits over the period of your retirement.
           You may prefer to assume that you (and your spouse) will be spending every Social Security dollar. If so, then enter 0% for investment rate and consider the calculated results to be the total accumulated Social Security benefits only over the period of your retirement.
           Again, the impact on cash flows from investments outside of the Social Security benefit account is NOT considered.
  • Calculations are done on a monthly basis, reporting on a calendar year basis. When a report specifies a benefit for you at Age 62, it refers to the benefit earned in the year that you turned 62.
  • To make valid comparisons of all retirement options, Net Present Value is calculated back to the year that the oldest of the couple is 62.
  • Average annual Social Security COLA (cost of living adjustment) since 2001 is 2.5%:
    • 3.5% for 2001 (effective January 1, 2001)
    • 2.6% for 2002
    • 1.4% for 2003
    • 2.1% for 2004
    • 2.7% for 2005
    • 4.1% for 2006
    • 3.3% for 2007
    • 2.3% for 2008
    • 5.8% for 2009
    • 0.0% for 2010
    • 0.0% for 2011
    • 3.6% for 2012
    • 1.7% for 2013
    • 1.5% for 2014
  • Annual COLA is applied on January 1 of each year.
  • Inflation/Discount Rate is an estimate of annual inflation, the increase in the price of all goods and services. Enter as a percentage with up to 2 significant digits. Used to discount future cash flows to compute Net Present Value, or the value of total future cash flows in terms of the current dollar. The input default is 2.5%.
  • Investment Rate is an estimate of the annual investment gain on future benefit and investment cash flows. Enter as a percentage with up to 2 significant digits. The input default is 4%.
  • Full (Normal) Retirement Age is determined by your birth year. Check this ssa.gov table for details. For example, if your birthday is 08/31/1956, then your Full Retirement Age is 66 years + 4 months and you receive 7 months of benefit in the first year (i.e., your 66th year). In terms of a calendar year, you receive 12 months of benefit in the year in which you turn 67 (since your birthday is in August and you are not benefits eligible for 4 months, until January of the next year).
  • If your birthday is on the first day of the month, your first benefit entitlement month is the current month. If your birthday is on any other day of the month, your first benefit entitlement month is the following month.
  • Benefits start in the month following the month for which they are due. For example, if your 62nd birthday is July 15, your first month of early retirement entitlement is August, and you will receive your first check in September.
  • The calculator gives you the option of saving the results in a CSV (comma-separated values) formatted file or opening the results in Excel. You can then add titles, company logos, re-format or edit, etc. the results to suit your needs. Please note that if you bookmark a results page and access the page sometime later, the "Create a CSV file" option will NOT correctly create your file. At that point in time, the results values only exist on the web page and are no longer part of your "session" memory. To resolve this problem just re-input your data and recreate the report of interest. You will then be able to access the "Create a CSV File" link.
  • We ran thousands of tests on over 400 test data cases before releasing our calculator. Excel was used to validate the Net Present Value calculations. It must be noted that Excel performs beginning of period NPV calculations, our calculator performs end of period calculations (i.e., the first year's cash flow is not discounted).
  • References: U.S. Social Security Administration (www.ssa.gov), Social Security Handbook and Social Security Administration Program Operations Manual System.
SPOUSAL BENEFITS
  • If your spouse reaches Full Retirement Age and is eligible for a Spousal Benefit (based on your work history) and their own benefit (based on their work history), your spouse may choose to start the Spousal Benefit and delay their own benefit.
  • If you reach Full Retirement Age and are eligible for a Spousal Benefit (based on your spouse work history) and your own benefit (based on your work history), you may choose to start the Spousal Benefit and delay your own benefit.
  • For your spouse, the maximum Spousal Benefit (based on your work history) is 50% of your Full Retirement Age benefit and requires that your spouse wait until Full Retirement Age before starting benefits. The Spousal Benefit is reduced if your spouse elects to start benefits before his/her Full Retirement Age. The benefit reduction amounts to a fraction of a percent for each month before the spouse's Full Retirement Age. Check the ssa.gov table for the exact reduction amounts. For additional details on the reduction of benefit calculations see this spreadsheet. Conversely, this rule also holds in the case where you, as worker or higher wage earner, are taking a Spousal Benefit based upon the spouse work history.
  • Effect of the calculator COLA assumption: the Spousal Benefit calculation takes into account the annual COLA. Example #1: You start benefits at FRA in 2011 and your spouse reaches FRA in 2013 and begins taking a Spousal Benefit. The amount of the Spousal Benefit equals 50% of your FRA benefit in 2011 plus 2 years of COLA. Example #2: You start benefits early at 62 even though your FRA is 66 in 2011, your spouse is older than you and elects to start a Spousal Benefit at FRA in 2010 when you are 65. The amount of the Spousal Benefit equals 50% of what your FRA is projected to be in 2011 minus 1 year of COLA. The calculator makes an assumption that since you started benefits early, your original projected benefit at FRA will be reduced. The amount of that annual reduction is COLA.
  • If you reach Full Retirement Age, you can apply for retirement benefits and then request to have payments suspended. Your spouse can then begin to receive a Spousal Benefit (based on your work history) and you can continue to delay taking your benefit up until age 70.
  • Benefit Status Change Assumption: in a year when the worker or spouse change benefit status (i.e. from a spousal benefit to their own benefit or vice versa), the calculator considers the new status to be effective the full year.
SURVIVOR BENEFITS
  • A "survivor" (widow or widower) is eligible for a Survivor Benefit upon the death of the "partner". The Survivor Benefit can be up to 100% of the partner's current Retirement Benefit ("CURR eligible benefit") if the partner has earned delayed retirement credits or 100% of the partner's FRA benefit ("FRA eligible benefit") but is subject to limitations. The first limitation involves the year at which the survivor elects to take the Survivor Benefit. The survivor can take the Survivor Benefit as early as age 60 which will mean a 28.5% reduction of the eligible benefit. A sliding scale for the amount of reduction ends at the survivor's FRA which will give the survivor 100% of the eligible benefit (check this ssa.gov table for details of the sliding scale). The second limitation involves when the partner elects to take their retirement benefit. If the partner starts benefits before their FRA then the survivor will be limited to 82.5% of the FRA eligible benefit. If the partner starts benefits at or after FRA then the survivor is due 100% of the FRA eligible benefit or 100% of the CURR eligible benefit (which will include any Delayed Retirement Credits), whichever is greater. The third limitation involves the survivor's retirement benefit. If the survivor is currently taking a retirement benefit, the survivor will receive the greater of their current retirement benefit or the Survivor Benefit.
  • The calculator does NOT consider these survivors for Survivor Benefits: disabled survivors aged 50-59, surviving children or surviving dependent parents.
  • Survivors under FRA that are receiving Survivor Benefits are subject to an earnings test and may have their Survivor Benefits reduced. The calculator does NOT handle this earnings test.
  • Survivor Benefit Status Assumption: in a year when the worker or spouse reach the end of their Lifespan, the calculator will start the Survivor Benefit the following year and the benefit will be effective the full year (i.e. if the worker has a Lifespan input of 75 years and reaches that age in 2020, the Survivor Benefit for the spouse will start in 2021 and be effective the full year).
  • Survivor Benefit Start Assumption: the calculator assumes the survivor will take the Survivor Benefit as soon as possible following the death of the partner, which may mean as early as age 60 for the survivor.

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