What happens to my Social Security benefit if I retire early?

Kali Hassinger Contributed by: Kali Hassinger, CFP®

Did you know that the benefit shown on your Social Security estimate statement isn’t just based on your work history?

what happens to my social security benefit if I retire early

The estimated benefit shown on your statement assumes that you’ll work from now until your full retirement age.  And, on top of that, it assumes that your income will remain about the same that entire time. For some of our clients who are still working, early retirement has become a frequent discussion topic. What happens, however, if you retire early and don’t pay into Social Security for several years? In a world where pensions are quickly becoming a thing of the past, Social Security will be the largest, if not the only, fixed income source in retirement for many. 

Your Social Security benefit is based on your highest 35 earning years, with the current full retirement age at 67.

So, what happens to your benefit if you retire at age 50? That is a full 17 years earlier than your statement assumes you’ll work, which effectively cuts out half of what is often our highest earning years.

We recently had a client ask about this exact scenario, and the results were pretty surprising! This client has been earning a great salary for the last 10 years and maxing out the Social Security tax income cap every year. Her Social Security statement, of course, assumes that she would continue to pay in the maximum amount (which is 6.2% of $132,900 for an employee in 2019 - or $8,240 - with the employer paying the additional 6.2%) until her full retirement age of 67. She wanted to make sure her retirement plan was still on track even after stopping her income and contributions to Social Security at age 50.

We were able to analyze her Social Security earning history, then project her future earnings based on her current income and future retirement age of 50. Her current statement showed a future annual benefit of $36,000. When we reduced her income to $0 at age 50, her estimated Social Security benefit actually dropped by 13%, or $4,680 per year. That’s still $31,320-per-year fixed income source would still pay our client throughout retirement. Given the fact that she’s working 17 years less than the statement assumes and she has the assets necessary to support the difference, a 13% decrease isn’t too bad. This is just one example, of course, but it is indicative of what we’ve seen for many of our early retirees. 

Social Security isn’t the only topic you’ll want to check on before making any final decisions about an early retirement.

You’ll also want to consider health insurance, having enough savings in non-retirement accounts that aren’t subject to an early withdrawal penalty, and, of course, making sure you’ve saved enough to reach your goals! If you’d like to chat about Social Security and your overall retirement plan, we are always happy to help!

Kali Hassinger, CFP®, CDFA® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® She has more than a decade of financial planning and insurance industry experience.

Any opinions are those of Kali Hassinger, CFP and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. There is no assurance any of the trends mentioned will continue or forecasts will occur. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. The case study included herein is for illustrative purposes only. Individual cases will vary. Prior to making any investment decision, you should consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Raymond James and its advisors do not provide tax or legal advice. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.