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MinistryCPA Special Topic: Social Security Benefit Calculation (Part 2 of 2)

Question:

Having just turned 60, I am in the process of planning my retirement, so I would like to get an idea of how much I can expect for Social Security benefits each month. Can I simply apply a percentage to my average monthly wages over my working life to get an estimate? If not, how does the Social Security Administration (SSA) calculate my monthly benefit?

Answer:

In our last post on Social Security, we discussed calculation of the average indexed monthly earnings (AIME), which is the basis for monthly benefit calculation.The SSA uses the term "primary insurance amount" (PIA) to denote the monthly benefit available to an individual at full retirement age (FRA). PIA is calculated based on two different "bend points" determined by the SSA. Each year, the bend points are adjusted based on the same national average wage index used to index for AIME purposes. Up to the first bend point, retirees receive 90% of their AIME. This provides a first level of significant retirement benefit. The amount of AIME beyond the first bend point which is translated into retirement benefits is significantly less.

For 2013, the first bend point is $791, and the second is $4,768. The PIA is equal to the sum of:
  • 90% of AIME up to the first bend point ($791)
  • 32% of AIME up to the second bend point ($4,768)
  • 15% of AIME beyond $4,768
up to a maximum of $2,533* per month for 2013. The maximum PIA is also adjusted each year by the SSA.

Let's consider an example: assume an individual has a calculated AIME of $6,000. To determine the PIA, multiply the first $791 by 90% to get $712. Then, multiply $3,977 (the difference between the first and second bend points) by 32% to get $1,273. Finally, multiply $1,232 (the difference between the second bend point and $6,000) by 15% to get $185. Add $712, $1,273, and $185 to arrive at the PIA of $2,170. Keep in mind that the SSA will apply cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to adjust the PIA for inflation and other economic factors. he amounts projected here are for individuals planning to begin collecting benefits at FRA.

For more, visit the Primary Insurance Amount page on the SSA website. Also, see previous posts on Social Security by clicking "Social Security" in the "Categories" section on the blog's sidebar.

*2013 PIA cap information from Forbes.com.

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