Chris Stein, CFP®
Social Security Benefit Calculators
A reader from Texas asks where to find good Social Security benefits calculators.
"My sister needs to work for two more years to reach 40 quarters. (She's a retired teacher in Texas, so she didn't pay into Social Security from that job.) However, since she does not yet have 40 quarters, the Social Security Administration will not give her an estimate of her retirement benefit. Is there a calculator on a website that will allow us to estimate her benefit by projecting her income for the next two years and entering all of her previous income?"
There are a couple of ways to obtain an estimate of your sister's retirement benefit.
Social Security calculators: The Social Security Administration (SSA) does offer some calculators that you can manipulate, where you can enter your own data. Finding the right calculator can be a little challenging because SSA has several different ones, and they don't just pop up when you do a Google search.
In their attempt to be helpful, they offer the "Quick Calculator," the "Online Calculator," and the "Detailed Calculator" for base benefits. Then they have several others to do other calculations. So you could say the SSA stumbles over itself in its attempt to help.
If you are targeting the base benefit, SSA's Quick Calculator can be a really rough tool. It's probably not going to give you what you need. And to use the Detailed Calculator, you have to install it on your computer, which can be cumbersome.
The SSA calculator that will do exactly what you want is the one they call their Online Calculator. Like other calculators on the Social Security website, it's free and comes directly from the source.
The Online Calculator will allow you to type in someone's actual earnings. So as long as you have your sister's earnings record with all of her earnings, you could enter them along with her future earnings and get an estimation of her retirement benefit.
I've tried different search terms to get directly to the right page through Google, but it always sends me somewhere where I still need to click through a few things to get there. For example, if you Google "Social Security Online Calculator," you can get close to it. But you might still have to look around the page and find where it actually gives you the link that's specifically titled Online Calculator.
Or you can click through this link: Online Calculator. [embed https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/AnypiaApplet.html ] When you are on the right page, the URL will read www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/AnypiaApplet.html.
Third-party calculators: It might be easier to find some calculators that aren't on the Social Security website. But here's the first disclaimer: you'll have to trust the source of information. Various people have put together websites that try to meet the needs of everyone looking for what you are, and the Social Security website isn't always the easiest one to navigate.
I've played around with one of these non-SSA calculators, called SSA.tools. Although I don't have access to the source code, it looks like the person knows what they're doing. It offers a simple calculator that's free, prettier, and more modern than the Social Security one.
There are also some paid choices, such as MaximizeMySocialSecurity.com and many other similar ones.
But I think I'd first try one of these two – SSA.tools or the Online Calculator on the Social Security website – which will let you do exactly what you're trying to do. It's a shame that Social Security won't give you an estimate before having 40 quarters, but it is what it is.