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Why Social Security payments may differ from estimates

Estimated future Social Security benefits are based on

Estimated future Social Security benefits are based on assumptions that may change. Credit: Istock

My wife planned to apply for Social Security later this year at age 63 plus 1 month, but it turns out her actual monthly benefit is almost $40 less than is stated in the Social Security booklet and the agency’s online calculator. An acquaintance who works for Social Security acknowledged that benefit information in the statement and website doesn’t accurately describe what people will actually receive because it’s based on the individual working to age 66. Their system calculates a lower benefit for my wife because she won’t earn income at her current rate for the next three years. My acquaintance agreed they should make a clear, unambiguous asterisk notation to potential filers regarding this matter. What’s your opinion?

I think your acquaintance spoke without looking at a Social Security benefits statement. The asterisk is there, along with an explanation of why the projected benefit amounts are only estimates.

These statements are mailed every five years to workers age 25 and older, and are also available online. They show the worker’s estimated Social Security retirement benefit if taken at age 62, at full retirement age, and at age 70 — followed by a prominently displayed caveat, quoted here:

We can’t provide your actual benefit amount until you apply for benefits. And that amount may differ from the estimates stated above because:

(1) Your earnings may increase or decrease in the future.

(2) After you start receiving benefits, they will be adjusted for cost-of-living increases.

(3) Your estimated benefits are based on current law. The law governing benefit amounts may change.

(4) Your benefit amount may be affected by military service, railroad employment or pensions earned through work on which you did not pay Social Security tax.

THE BOTTOM LINE Estimated future Social Security benefits are based on assumptions that may change.


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