Smart Management of Retirement Income—Sources of Retirement Income

Social Security


For many, Social Security will be a vital—and significant—source of retirement income. Unlike most sources of retirement income, Social Security benefits are adjusted periodically for inflation.


Perhaps the biggest decision you'll make about Social Security is when to apply for your benefits. You can take reduced benefits at 62, wait until you're eligible to receive your full benefits—which will depend on the year in which you were born—or postpone your first payment to qualify for a larger amount.


The SSA offers many tools and resources to help you understand your Social Security benefits and how best to plan for the day when you will tap those benefits to help fund your retirement. Here are a few to explore:


Find Your Full Retirement Age


Social Security Retirement Planner


When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits


Life Expectancy Calculator


Social Security Checklist

When you apply for benefits, you'll be asked to provide a number of documents. You must submit originals or copies certified by the issuing office, as the SSA does not accept photocopies. If you know what those documents are before you're ready to apply, you'll have a head start on getting them together.

Here's a checklist of some documents you may need when you sign up for Social Security:
  Green Checkmark Your Social Security card (or a record of your number)
  Green Checkmark Your birth certificate
  Green Checkmark Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful immigration status if you were not born in the U.S.
  Green Checkmark Your spouse’s birth certificate and Social Security number if he or she is applying for benefits based on your earnings
  Green Checkmark Marriage certificate (if applying for spousal benefits)
  Green Checkmark Your military discharge papers if you had military service
  Green Checkmark Your most recent W-2 form, or, if you're self-employed, your tax return


Drawing Social Security Income


If you and your spouse are both eligible for Social Security benefits based on your work histories, you’ll face a key choice. You must decide together whether to draw on your individual accounts or have one of you draw what are called spousal benefits.


If you and your spouse earned approximately equal amounts over your working lives, drawing on your individual accounts will provide the greatest benefits. But if one of you earned substantially more than the other, you’ll want to compare your alternatives. If you are eligible for both your own retirement benefit and for benefits as a spouse, SSA will always pay you benefits based on your record first. If your benefit as a spouse is higher than your retirement benefit, you will receive a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse's benefits.


If you have a minor child, you may be eligible for additional Social Security benefits.


Smart Tip: COLAs Help You Manage Inflation

There are increases in Social Security benefits known as cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs. They are designed to help offset the effects of inflation. Before 1975, beneficiaries had to await a special act of Congress to receive a benefit increase. Beginning in 1975, the SSA started automatic annual cost-of-living allowances.


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