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5: There's no way to calculate how much you qualify for

It's true, you can't predict your exact Social Security benefit far in advance. That's because the amount depends on variables that can change leading up to retirement, including your income, new government rules and the program’s status and fund reserves at the time you start collecting.

But you can still make an educated guess and doing so is crucial for retirement planning.

Start by creating an account at SSA.gov, then you can use their calculator to estimate how much you'll qualify to receive at different ages.

It might also be worth your time and money to talk to a financial planner who can help you make plans and offer advice on possible ways to maximize the benefits you’ll ultimately receive.

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4: Your Social Security benefit is set in stone

You probably have more control over your social Security benefit than you think – even if you're retired already.

Here are a few ways you could increase the amount you're eligible to receive:

  • Retire later: You can start drawing retirement benefits between age 62 and 70 and the longer you wait, the higher your benefit will be.
  • Increase your pre-retirement income: Your benefit is based on 35 of your highest-earning years. So if you increase your income before retiring, your SS benefit can increase too.
  • Check your records: Your benefit amount could be reduced if the SSA has incorrect records of your income. If you find an error in your Social Security statement, request a correction at ssa.gov or call 1-800-772-1213.
  • Look into family benefits: Check to see if you qualify for additional benefits based on a family member's work, including benefits earned by a former spouse.

3: Social Security will replace your paycheck

Even though experts like Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey constantly tell their viewers otherwise, many people believe Social Security alone will sustain them in retirement— but the benefit is only meant to supplement it.

In 2023, the maximum benefit for someone who waits until age 70 to retire is $4,555 a month ($54,660 a year). For most people, the benefit will pay around 40% of what you earn while working.

This is why starting the process of planning for retirement with investments and savings as early as you can is so important if you hope to keep up your lifestyle when you no longer have a paycheck coming in.

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2: Social Security benefits are not taxed

Don't assume you'll get to keep all of your Social Security check. In all likelihood, you’ll pay taxes based on your "combined income," which the SSA defines as 50% of your Social Security benefit, plus any other earned income.

If your combined income on your federal tax return is:

  • between $25,000 and $34,000 as an individual or between $32,000 and $44,000 if you file jointly with your spouse, you can expect to pay taxes on 50% of your benefits.
  • more than $34,000 as an individual and $44,000 for joint filers, you could pay taxes on up to 85% of your benefits

People who are married and file separately may also have to pay taxes on Social Security, regardless of income level.

1: Social Security will run out funds before you retire

It's unclear what will happen to Social Security in the long-run, but current projections show Social Security fully funded through 2034 and potentially reduced to 80% after that in part because life expectancies are much higher than when the program was first introduced in 1935. If Congress steps in between now and 2034, future legislation and policy changes could affect what's available for retirees.

In other words, don't assume Social Security will fully vanish before you retire – but don’t depend on the full benefit waiting for you, either. Instead, plan ahead, pay attention to policy updates and make sure you're prepared to claim what's available when the time comes.

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Sarah Brady Freelance Contributor

Sarah Brady is a (self-)certified money nerd. She's a personal finance writer and speaker who's been helping individuals and entrepreneurs improve their financial wellness since 2013. Sarah has written for Forbes Advisor, USA Today's Blueprint, FORTUNE, Experian, Investopedia and more,

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