Although you won’t become eligible for Social Security until your 60s, there’s a lot you can do to prepare before then. Here’s a rundown of steps you can take during each decade of your life:
In your 20s: If you’re like a lot of people, you’re embarking on a career. At this point, there’s no guarantee that Social Security will be around in its current form when you’re ready to retire. The smart move is to build up retirement savings on your own. For instance, you should be participating in a 401(k) or other qualified plan at work. If done, Social Security benefits will be a pleasant surprise when you retire.
In your 30s: As you continue making retirement contributions, begin checking on your Social Security wage history. Go to the Social Security Administration (SSA) website to set up and review your account. Eventually, benefits will be based on your work history. Make sure your wages are being reported correctly and correct any errors that occur. As the same time, increase retirement plan contributions.
In your 40s: Typically, this is a time when your earnings increase significantly. Be aware of the key rules relating to Social Security benefits. For example, realize that the SSA uses your average earnings for the 35 highest-earning years to calculate your payments in retirement. So keep track of this and continue to have lower income years be replaced with higher income years. This will result in higher benefit checks when you retire.
In your 50s: Circle a target date for retirement. While not etched in stone, having a target date allows you to analyze whether you’ll be able to sustain your current lifestyle based on your expected income and expenses. This exercise is more important if you’re considering early retirement. Continue to check income being reported to the SSA and create a forecast for the future. If you wait until your 60s to begin this planning process, it may be too late to save enough to meet your retirement goals.
In your 60s: Decide whether you want to begin taking benefits at age 62 (the earliest age), age 67 (the current full retirement age), or somewhere in between. The longer you wait, the greater your monthly benefits will be, but you'll be giving up use of the money in the meantime. Factor in aspects like your health, plan payouts, required minimum distributions and other earnings. Finally, remember that up to 85% of Social Security benefits are taxable at the federal level, so it's worth to start planning now!