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The average Social Security retirement benefit is about $1,300 per month ($1,328 in 2015), and the maximum at full retirement age is more than $2,600 per month ($2,663 in 2015), but the exact amount you’ll get every month depends on how much you earned over your lifetime and how old you are when you start collecting Social Security. You have several ways to get a more meaningful handle on how much will be coming to you when you start collecting benefits:

  • Use a calculator. You can find Social Security’s online tools at www.ssa.gov/planners/benefitcalculators.htm. These tools include the Quick Calculator, which provides an instant but rough estimate, and the Retirement Estimator, which is based on your actual earnings record on file with Social Security. Other calculators, including AARP’s calculator (www.aarp.org/work/social-security/social-security-benefits-calculator), offer additional options, such as clarifying how earned income may affect your benefit before you reach your full retirement age and offering guidance for married couples.

  • Look at your personal statement if you have one. For individuals who have not set up an online account with Social Security, the agency mails written statements every five years, starting at age 25, and annually at 60. (To set up an online account, go to www.ssa.gov/myaccount.) Your statement spells out how much you can anticipate getting at your current rate of earnings if you retire early, at your full retirement age, or at age 70.

  • Factor in reductions for early retirement and credits for holding off your claim. You get less if you start collecting early, and more if you wait to collect. Social Security reduces your benefit in the range of 5 percent to 6.7 percent per year if you retire early (and your full retirement age is 66). It increases your benefit amount 8 percent per year up to age 70 if you wait past your full retirement age to begin collecting (and were born in 1943 or later). For more information on early or delayed retirement factors and an online calculator, check out www.ssa.gov/OACT/quickcalc/early_late.html.

  • Consider whether you’ll continue to earn money when you collect benefits. Social Security withholds $1 out of every $2 you earn above a certain amount (revised annually) if you’re collecting retirement benefits but you haven’t reached your full retirement age. A different earnings test applies during the year you reach full retirement age. You get the withheld payments back after you reach your full retirement age. For up-to-date details, go to www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/rtea.html.