Don't Claim Without Trying a Social Security Calculator First

A good Social Security calculator can help you get more lifetime benefits by showing you customized claiming strategies that you may not have otherwise realized were options. 

There are both free calculators and calculators that charge a modest fee. Nowadays, there are so many Social Security calculators that it's hard to cover them all. The calculators that aren't included in this list include the one available on the Social Security website. Social's online calculators don't analyze a variety of options or show you what claiming choices give you more money, but the calculators below do.

AARP's Social Security Benefits Calculator

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The AARP organization is very resourceful and their tools are designed to anticipate your needs. Chris Ryan / Getty Images

AARP offers a free, easy-to-use calculator that provides great information on how earnings from work can reduce your benefits if you claim before you reach full retirement age. It also provides a recommended claiming strategy in a summary format.

Some don't find this calculator very useful in developing a good action plan, but it's listed here because it's so visible and offered by such a respected organization. One major downside is that, while you can access the summary of a recommended claiming strategy, you can't dig into the data behind that summary. That's frustrating for those who want to consider all their options.

There's an element of "you get what you pay for" going on here. If you're serious about making your benefit choices work for you, you might prefer to pay for a benefits calculator. On the other hand, if you're just looking for some simple advice laid out for you, this may give you exactly what you want.

Maximize My Social Security

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Sometimes paying a small fee is required to discover expert advice. Dann Tardif / Getty Images

Maximize My Social Security, developed by Boston economics professor Larry Kotlikoff, covers all the Social Security claiming scenarios one might encounter: child benefits, divorcee, parent, retiree, spousal, and survivor. It also does calculations for the windfall elimination provision and government pension offset (which will affect you if you receive a pension from an employer who did not withhold Social Security tax from your earnings—such as a state employee).

This calculator isn't free. It costs $40 for an individual annual license, and financial advisors pay $250. Come prepared with personal information when you first use this calculator. Among the info you'll have to provide, this Social Security calculator requires you to input your past and projected earnings history, which you can get from your online Social Security statement.

Social Security Income Planner

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They say knowing is half the battle, she is determined to continue trying all of her options to make the right decision. Gary Houlder / Getty Images

This calculator provides an overview of several different pre-selected claiming strategies, or you can input your own strategy to see how it stacks up against other options. They offer models depending on your status, such as single, married, widowed or divorced.

This is another calculator that charges a fee. You can either use it once for $4.99 or subscribe to unlimited uses for $49.99. For the money, you will receive a detailed report that provides tables so you can see a month-by-month or year-by-year comparison of your potential claiming strategies.

Social Security Timing

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Timing choices can make a considerable difference. Comstock Images / Getty Images

Covisum's Social Security Timing calculator offers strong customer support and rapid updates to ensure users have the most accurate data. This was demonstrated in 2015 when the software quickly updated to take into account the new Social Security laws at the time.

Unfortunately, the full version of this calculator is only available to financial advisors. However, if you're in the finance business, you'll find this software valuable. Social Security Timing offers a 10-day free trial, followed by a $49.99 monthly cost.