Here’s a guide to the best services I’ve found through my years of reporting on the Social Security program. I’ve included resources ranging from basic free online tools that can be used to analyze your benefits to more robust fee-based services.
Some offer online assistance only, while others will do a personal review by phone for a fee that can range from $20 to a few hundred dollars. Several can link up your Social Security strategy with broader financial planning services so that you can think about your benefits against a backdrop of tax liabilities, your portfolio and other key factors.
Social Security Administration
Social Security Administration tables. The Social Security Administration also publishes tables showing how much your benefits will be reduced based on early filing, with varying monthly benefit assumptions.
Social Security retirement planner. Detailed information about your Social Security retirement benefits from the Social Security Administration.
Social Security Administration FAQ. How to replace cards, explanation of different SSA benefit programs.
Online Social Security calculators
SocialSecuritySolutions offers a variety of fee-based services, with price depending on how much personal assistance you desire. It’s simple to use and generates an easy-to-understand report offering recommendations on how you can maximize benefits. To get a report, simply input names, marital status, birth dates, best-guess life expectancy along with your projected Social Security benefit at FRA (full retirement age) website.
AARP Social Security benefits estimator. AARP offers a calculator that lets you do “what if” planning for taking Social Security at different ages. It’s similar to the SSA’s estimator in this way, although it also estimates the percent of your living expenses that will be covered by Social Security — and it allows you to tweak the expense assumptions. Unfortunately, the tool doesn’t include any spousal or survivor decision-making tools.
AnalyzeNow features a wide array of free retirement planning tools, including a very robust Social Security decision-making tool. You must input a fair amount of data on your own, including estimates of tax rates in retirement, rates of return on investments and future inflation rates. And the tools are spreadsheet-based, so they require basic computer and spreadsheet literacy. AnalyzeNow was created as a labor of love by Henry “Bud” Hebeler after his own retirement from Boeing Co., where he was a top executive and corporate planner.
Social Security Administration retirement estimator. This tool estimates benefits based on your personal earnings record. It also allows you to run scenarios based on alternate filing dates. But you can’t run spousal or survivor scenarios here.
National Committee to Protect Social Security & Medicare. Pose your question to Ask Mary Jane, an online service offered by NCPSSM, a non-profit advocacy group.
Social Security Claiming Guide. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College offers a free 28-page guide to basic decision-making on Social Security. Using clear, understandable language and charts and graphs, the guide explains the importance of Social Security, and the advantages of waiting to file for benefits until your Normal Retirement Age.
The National Academy of Social Insurance offers another guide on Social Security benefits timing in a Q&A format.
Other RetirementRevised.com resources
Spousal and survivor benefit FAQ. Answers to the questions I see most often from readers, vetted by the experts at the Social Security Administration.
How to get the most from Social Security. Overview of filing basics, application process and rules on working while receiving benefits.