Website Reviews: Social Security Administration

Reviewed by George Martinez:

The Social Security site is primarily targeted at those individuals who are retiring soon. The homepage has various links to applying for Social Security, forms, and how to access your Social Security statements via my Social Security. However, I am not about to retire and will be reviewing the retirement planning section of the site from the perspective of someone at the beginning of his career. The section of the Social Security site that focuses on retirement planning has three sections: Looking for Information, Already Near Retirement Age, and Close to age 65. I chose to investigate each section under Looking for Information to see what I could learn about how retirement works and how I can begin planning.

Find your Retirement Age

In this section, the site has a straightforward chart that shows the benefits of retiring at sixty-two based on the year you were born. Sixty-two is the earliest age a person can retire, but not necessarily a person’s “full retirement age.” When you select the year you are born, you are linked to another more specific chart. In the chart pertaining to your year of birth, you will discover the age you can receive full retirement benefits along with a breakdown of your monthly benefits depending on the age you choose to retire. The chart is a helpful visual that shows how you receive a smaller monthly percentage of your benefits the earlier you retire because your benefits will need to cover more time than if you retired at your full retirement age. This section of the site is most helpful in understanding how monthly benefits are dispersed once you retire and locating your own personal full retirement age. 

Estimate your life expectancy

Social Security wants you to deeply consider when you will start collecting retirement and they have a “Life Expectancy Calculator” to drive their point home. The calculator is strictly based on your gender and date of birth. This part of their site is the least reliable since we all know that we cannot predict the length of our lives, but it is valuable in the sense that it asks you to consider how long you might need Social Security benefits to last. However, it is difficult to take the life expectancy estimate seriously.

Estimate Your Retirement Benefits

You can only estimate your retirement benefits if you currently have enough Social Security credits. Since I am at the beginning of my career and my earnings will change as I build a career, the retirement estimator does not apply to me. As I am seeking information about retirement, it is good to know that in the future this resource is available to get a better idea of my benefits when I am closer to retiring, but currently it is not useful. 

Benefit Calculators 

You have the following options for calculators that show retirement benefits as well as disability and survivor benefits:

Quick Calculator

○ You can get a rough estimate of benefits using your date of birth and this year’s income. I was able to use my current year’s estimated salary and estimate the year I would retire according to the site’s recommendation. After entering my estimated amounts, the site revealed my monthly Social Security benefits and gave me the option to see the amount adjusted for inflation or not. Although, I did have to do some guesswork with my salary, I found this calculator helpful because it gave me benefit projections that I can use to plan for my future retirement.

Online Calculator

○ This calculator is more in depth and comes with a disclaimer that the calculator is updated periodically and that benefit estimates will be different in the future than the calculations you receive today.  In order to use the calculator, you must enter your earnings from each year you paid Social Security tax. This calculator is most useful to someone who is nearing retirement age and can enter specific earning information for each year.   

WEP Online Calculator and Detailed Calculator

○ The Windfall Elimination Provision Calculator is for you if your pension comes from work that is not covered by Social Security. The Detailed Calculator is the only downloadable calculator that is as close to the official calculators used by Social Security, but the site still maintains that the Detailed Calculator may produce different calculations. I did not use either one in depth due to my lack of work history and information that would enable me to benefit from these calculators.

Learn about Social Security programs

Social Security offers some basic, but useful information in this section. The site notes that your retirement is based on the following factors: benefits from pension, Social Security benefits, savings and investments. They also recognize, “Most financial advisors say you’ll need about 70 percent of your pre-retirement earnings to comfortably maintain your pre-retirement standard of living.” This section of the site links to other parts of the site that offer a few bits of information on topics such as preparing for your medical needs or if you are self-employed. The programs the title of this section that refers to includes information about Medicare and International Programs if you work outside of the United States. 

*I chose not to look at the “what happens if you work after you retire or already a Medicare Beneficiary” of the Looking for Information section because both of those scenarios do not apply to my situation as a person at the beginning of his career.

Conclusion:

I came to the Social Security site seeking to find out more about how to plan for retirement, but I did not quite find what I was seeking. I was hoping to find more information about what I could do today that would prepare me for retirement at the end of my career.  The Social Security site gave me a basic understanding of how Social Security benefits figure into retirement, but it did not give a lot of information about how to plan for retirement as a person at the beginning of his career. I believe part of the issue is that my expectations of the site did not correlate with what the Social Security site offers. The Social Security site offers more to those close to retirement who can utilize the variety of calculators that require information provided by a long career. People early in their careers are better off seeking tips for planning their retirement elsewhere.

George Martinez is an MLS student at the University of Maryland iSchool enrolled in the eGovernment specialization. George is a recipient of a Laura Bush 21st Century scholarship funded by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.