Social Security Benefit Amounts & COLAs

The Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates that the average worker will receive a retirement benefit that is equal to 40% of his or her career earnings.
In order to receive Social Security benefits, you must file for benefits. You are eligible to receive reduced retirement benefits at age 62, or you can wait until you are eligible for full benefits. (The SSA calls this your "full retirement" age. Beginning in 2003, the full retirement age is gradually rising to 67 from 65.)
By electing reduced benefits, you face a trade-off. The SSA reduces your benefits by five-ninths (5/9) of one percentage point for each month you receive benefits prior to reaching full retirement up to 36 months. If you receive benefits more than 36 months before reaching full retirement age, benefits are reduced by five-twelfths (5/12) for each month over 36. For example, if you elected to receive reduced benefits nine months early, your benefit would be reduced by 5%.
The following table shows how monthly benefits for a person receiving $800 are reduced over a range of periods:
Months before
full retirement age
of benefits (rounded)
Benefit amount (Example)
A decision to take benefits early depends on your income needs. If you're retired or no longer wish to work, you will more likely need the income than a person who wishes (and is able) to continue working and earning an income.
How much can you expect to receive in basic retirement benefits from Social Security? Your basic retirement benefit depends on how much you earn over the 35-year period used to calculate your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). Benefit amounts will also depend on the age at which you retire and whether you've earned all 40 credits. The following table shows average amounts for 2008 for monthly benefits, based on a 2.3% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for the year:
2.3% COLA
With 2.3%
All retired
Aged couple, both
receiving benefits
Widowed mother
and two children
Aged widower
Disabled worker, spouse,
and one or more children
All disabled

Source: Social Security Administration
If you receive basic retirement or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you will also receive a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) every year to protect you from inflation. The 2.3% COLA for 2008 is based on changes in the consumer price index (CPI) for the year ended in September 2007. A 2.3% increase on a monthly benefit of $800 is a little less than $19.
We've discussed two options: taking partial benefits as soon as you are eligible (reduced benefits), or waiting until you reach the age to receive full benefits. A third option is to postpone taking benefits until you reach age 70. (The SSA calls this "late retirement.") In addition to earning income for a few additional years (and padding your retirement nest egg), this option provides for a slightly larger monthly benefit.
If you are a "late retiree," you will receive an extra 6.5 to 8 percent in monthly benefits for each year that you delay retirement, depending on the year you are eligible for full benefits. (Persons reaching full retirement age in 2006 receive an extra 7% in benefits. Persons reaching full retirement in 2009 or later receive an extra 8% in benefits.)
Now the choice of taking on reduced benefits versus full benefits as early as possible is further complicated. You may wish to consult a financial adviser.
The above information is educational and should not be interpreted as financial advice. For advice that is specific to your circumstances, see the Web site of the Social Security Administration or call (800) 772-1213.
2008-07-21 17:02:38
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