Don't Claim Without Trying a Social Security Calculator First

A good Social Security calculator can help you get more benefits over your retirement years by providing you with customized claiming strategies that you might not have been aware of otherwise. The Social Security Administration makes one such calculator available on its website, but it doesn't analyze a variety of options or show you what claiming choices will result in you having more money at your disposal in retirement.

Others do all that and more. Some are free and others charge a modest fee.

AARP's Social Security Benefits Calculator

Smiling couple sitting at a kitchen table with a laptop.
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 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 particularly useful in developing a good action plan, but it's included here because it's so visible and it's offered by a respected organization. One major downside is that although 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.

The calculator site does offer some additional information in the form of links to some hot topic articles.

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

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 was developed by Boston University economics professor Larry Kotlikoff. It covers just about any Social Security claiming scenario you might encounter, from child benefits to whether you're a divorcee, parent, retiree, spouse, or 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 didn't withhold Social Security tax from your earnings, such as because you're a state employee.

Maximize My Social Security also provides links to pertinent topics and news with a variety of publications.

This calculator isn't free. It costs $40 for an annual household license as of 2020.

Make sure you have your personal information at your fingertips when you first use this one. It requires that you input your past and projected earnings history, which you can get from your online or paper Social Security statement if you have one mailed to you.

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

The Social Security Income Planner 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—a particularly nice touch if you're one of those who likes doing things your own way. It offers different models depending on your status, such as whether you're single, married, widowed, or divorced.

It, too, includes a calculation for government pension offset, and it charges a fee. You can use it once for $4.99 or subscribe to unlimited uses for $49.99 as of 2020. You'll 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 that users have the most accurate data. This was demonstrated in 2015 when the software quickly updated to take into account the changed Social Security laws at that time. It's also introduced a new break-even chart that can be particularly enlightening, and the site will send you its blog either daily, weekly, or monthly—your choice.

Unfortunately, the full version of this calculator is only available to financial advisors, but you'll find this software valuable if you're in the finance business. Social Security Timing offers a 10-day free trial, followed by a $49.99 monthly cost. A free demo is provided to help you decide if the program is what you need before you commit.

Non-professionals can leave a message on the site requesting personal assistance.