The Social Security Administration bases the size of your benefit check on how much money you made while you worked. In short, the more you made, the more you get back. Some choices you make can increase or decrease your monthly retirement check. A good rule of thumb is the longer you wait to start getting Social Security, the more you get.
The Social Security Administration figures retirement benefits based on the assumption you’ll start monthly payments at age 66. That's the retirement age for persons born before 1955. The full retirement age for people born later will gradually increase, reaching 67 if you were born after 1959. As of 2013, someone starting benefits the month she turns 66 could get a maximum monthly benefit of $2,533.
Only the money you pay Social Security taxes on goes into the benefit calculation. The SSA adjusts what you make for inflation and then counts the 35 biggest yearly amounts to figure your average monthly earnings. As of 2013, the full benefit came to 90 percent of the first $791 of adjusted average monthly income, then 32 percent of the money between $791 and $4,768, and 15 percent of everything above that. You can get up to half of your spouse's benefit amount even if you aren't eligible for Social Security based on your own income.
One of the decisions you eventually must make is when to start retirement benefits. You can start the month you turn 62, but that will cut the monthly benefit by 25 percent. On the other hand, you'll get an extra 8 percent for each year you defer benefits after 66. The maximum increase is 32 percent extra if you delay benefits until you turn 70.
Average Benefit Amounts
The average individual monthly retirement benefit as of 2013 was $1,261. Married couples averaged $2,014. Widows, widowers, surviving children and people with disabilities may get benefits before reaching retirement age. For example, a surviving spouse with two children got an average of $2,592 per month. A disabled married person with one child got an average of $1,919 each month.