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I will only have worked for about 20 years between the age of 23 and 62, and I checked the social security website, and it says:

Retire at age 62: monthly benefit is about $1860
Retire at age 67: about $3020

But I wonder how come it is almost double if it is 5 years later. Could it be due to working 5 extra years? (that is, between working 20 years or 25 years. I am putting in the future estimate I will be making about $200,000 each year).

If I had worked every single year since age 23, or worked 25 years, then would that mean at age 62, I could get $3000 each month?

(The estimator only allows me to do future retirement age calculations but not past years estimates, unless if there is another place I didn't catch that can let me put in numbers for the past)

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    ssa calculator allows you to input arbitrary income for all past years. ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/AnypiaApplet.html Mar 30, 2023 at 14:37
  • this is great. I wonder why I don't see this link on my Home page on their website. So this is what I tried: if I work 25 years even at $200k or 30 years but want to retire at age 62, then my monthly benefit is only $2200 or so. But if I work 20 years only and wait till I am 67, then it is $2855 per month... so it looks like waiting till 67 has a great benefit Mar 30, 2023 at 15:14

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The SSA considers 67 the "normal" retirement age for people born after 1960, but you are eligible to receive benefits at age 62 at a reduced rate. The reduced rate is to account for the 5 extra years that you'd be getting benefits before you die and other factors. There are also factors for inflation that are applied each year (it's not clear if those are factored into the figures you were given).

If I had worked every single year since age 23, or worked 25 years, then would that mean at age 62, I could get $3000 each month? The reduction for taking benefits before your normal retirement age are more than the bump you'd get by working more years. So starting work 5 years sooner and taking benefits at 62 would not be the same as taking benefits at 67.

Using this calculator, you can see that if you start taking benefits 5 years early at age 62, your SS benefit will be reduced by 30% (70.42% of your base benefit, which is based on your earning history). Delaying until age 70 increases your benefit by 30%, so if you can afford to do it, then waiting until age 70 to draw SS has significant benefits.

Also keep in mind that Social Security is only one piece of retirement. You can use 401(k)s and IRAs to supplement SS, and they often end up being the majority or your retirement income if you take advantage of matches and better investment choices.

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  • I don't see a link that can let me put in numbers for the past... it is only an estimate for the future (and it is the same for every year for the future -- this is the page where they let you see what if you retire at 62 or 67 or choose 63, 64, etc) Mar 30, 2023 at 13:49
  • I see what you're saying now - then I don't know, and does it matter? You can't change that - all you can do is choose how long you want to work, when you want to start benefits, and what your benefits will be after that.
    – D Stanley
    Mar 30, 2023 at 13:57
  • I know... perhaps if I go to the local social security office, their computer can allow them to do more hypothetical estimate. But last time I went there, the rep simply told me to go home and do it on my whole web browser which is quite limiting. I told her that's the whole point of coming down to the office, and she refused to do anything. Seems like tax money put to good use Mar 30, 2023 at 14:13
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    But what's the point? If they tell you that you would have gotten more by starting work 5 years sooner, what good is that other then regret? The point of SS is that you get out based on what you put in, so certainly working more years would get you more benefits at retirement.
    – D Stanley
    Mar 30, 2023 at 14:17
  • the point is to understand it better. You know, there are practical people who said, "an apple falls and will go to the ground. Anybody knows that. What's your point of trying to understand it more?" And then there are people who actually try to understand it more Mar 30, 2023 at 14:52
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When you are looking at your estimate on the social security website, you will see the following.

At your current earnings rate, if you continue working until...

your full retirement age (67 years), your payment would be about... $medium a month
age 70, your payment would be about...$large a month
age 62, your payment would be about... $small a month

The reason for the delta is because of two things:

  • You collect for fewer years the longer you wait, therefore each payment will be larger.
  • You work more years. The estimate mentions that to get those numbers you have to keep working until you are 67 or 70.

The reason why working longer increases your benefit is because as you keep working some of the years where you earned less money are being replaced with years at the end of working career.

The site has a calculator so you can see what will happen if you stop working and then take a several year gap before staring to collect benefits. You may find that the numbers at 67 or 70 are reduced from the initial estimate that had you working until age 67 or 70.

The calculator is here: Social Security Quick Calculator

To use put in a birth date, do a quick calculation, then on the results page click the "see the earnings we used button". You can then edit any of the values for the past or future earnings.

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  • yes, I just wonder why 5 years can make it almost double. I was hoping if somebody actually worked almost every year of their life and can tell me one way or the other "yes, at age 62, you could get $3000 already if you just worked for 25 years" Mar 30, 2023 at 14:14
  • The calculator allows you to setup that scenario, to see how much somebody would get if they earned income for a limited number of years. Mar 30, 2023 at 14:27
  • I've been told that assuming nothing else changes,, the payment increases by about 8% per year deferred, due to the factors mentioned by others. Over 5 years that would be almost a 50% gain, not 100%. My report said I'd get about $2200/month at age 62, $3100/month if I waited to age 66.66, which matches that multiplier pretty decently.... Amount you get also depends on your wage/withholding history, so payment amount differs from person to person;. See the "How your benefits are estimated" section of the report.
    – keshlam
    Mar 30, 2023 at 14:42
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    I did a calculation: if it is $1860, then let it compound for 5 years at 8%, it is about $2718, and then one more year and it is $$2935, which is close to $3000 but it requires 6 years... Mar 30, 2023 at 14:49
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    @StefanieGauss I don't know if this is the reason, but consider the average life expectancy in the US is ~77 years. Going from 62 to 67 cuts expected remaining lifespan by 1/3, from 15 years to 10 years (which is pretty close to the extra amount, 1860 / (2 / 3) = 2790)
    – Izkata
    Mar 30, 2023 at 20:59
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This might be obvious to some, and not an issue for most people, but it's important to understand that the Social Security Retirement benefit is paid only to those who had enough "covered earnings" (i.e., those who paid Social Security taxes or had them withheld) for 40 "credits" with a maximum granting of 4 credits per year worked. This means a minimum of 10 years of working where SS taxes were withheld (but it might be longer if you didn't earn enough in a particular year to get 4 credits).

So if by "worked" for 20+ years you meant "had Social Security taxes withheld (or paid them some other way)" then you're fine. Any time working for pay where SS taxes weren't paid/withheld wouldn't count. And as mentioned previously, yes, the benefit is calculated based on average monthly wage income for the 35 years with the highest reported wages; however, for those who paid SS taxes for less than 10 years (i.e., they don't have 40 credits), the benefit is $0.

See https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/credits.html.

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I'd have to see all the numbers you entered into the calculator, but my guess is that they assume that you're working and earning money for those 5 years.

The formula social security uses for early retirement is that they calculate a basic benefit assuming that you will retire at age 67. Then for every month before that that you retire, they subtract 5/9 of 1% for the first 36 months and 5/12 of 1% for every month after that. The earliest you can retire is 62.

So if you retire at 62, your benefit is reduced by 36 x 5/9% + 24 x 5/12% = 20% + 10% = 30%. Retiring 5 years early costs you 30% per month.

Your basic benefit is calculated based on your average wages for your 35 highest-earning years, adjusting for inflation. If you work less than 35 years, they average in enough zeros to bring the total up to 35.

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