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Social Security column: Benefits based on 35 years of work

Q: I expect to retire in two years at about age 65½. Will my SSA retirement amount be computed based on age 65 or age 66?

A: Neither. People can start SSA retirement as early as age 62 or as late as age 70 with the amount based on the age, month by month, that benefits start. No matter what your actual age at retirement, the SSA representative first determines your benefit amount as of your full retirement age (FRA).

For people born from 1943-54, FRA is age 66. All further computations are based on the number of months that you are before or after FRA. The FRA amount is reduced a fraction of a percent for each month that you start benefits before your full retirement age or added to for the number of months that you start after FRA, not whether you are age 65, 66 or something else.

On the SSA website,, in the Retirement Planner, is a chart with different birth year FRA's and a guide to reduction percentages when starting benefits prior to FRA. Benefit amount information if starting after FRA is also there.

Q: Are my Social Security retirement benefits figured on my last five years of earnings?

A: No. Retirement benefit calculations are based on your average earnings from gross wages and net self-employment during a lifetime of work under the Social Security system. For most retirees, SSA averages the 35 highest years of earnings. Years with low or no earnings may be counted to bring the total years of earnings up to 35. Most people, if at least age 25 and not receiving Social Security benefits, automatically receive a Social Security Statement three months before their birthday. The Statement shows the yearly earnings reported for you.

Did you know? You can read or subscribe to the free Social Security Update electronic newsletter at To subscribe, all that is needed is your e-mail address.

Q: I receive Social Security and during the winter months I expect to travel away from home. If a SSA question comes up, what office do I contact?

A: First, if not already used, now is the time to sign up for electronic direct deposit of your Social Security to provide safe, timely and convenient benefit receipt to your financial institution no matter where you are.

For general information, see the SSA website at For anything else, SSA components are connected to the same computer system so call the national SSA toll-free number, 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778). SSA phone representatives are available business days from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. local time. You can also contact the SSA office nearest to your location or the one nearest your permanent address.

Q: I need something from Social Security to verify the amount of my monthly benefit. How do I do that?

A: You already might have verification of the amount right now such as a bank statement showing direct deposit of your benefit or a previous SSA letter showing your benefit amount. However, you can easily get written verification online through the SSA website,

Go to "What you can do online" and select the "Request a Proof of Income letter" link. It can be used as proof of your SSA income for any third party. A benefit verification letter can also be requested by calling the SSA national toll-free number, 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778).

Did you know? Now available is an online benefit estimator that connects to your actual Social Security earnings record.

Providing secure, immediate and personalized benefit estimates to help you plan for retirement, the Retirement Estimator is interactive and can be used to compare different retirement options such as changed retirement dates or expected future earnings.

The Retirement Estimator cannot be used if you already receive benefits on your own SSA record or if you already have Medicare.

Specific details are at

Howard Kossover is a public affairs specialist with the Social Security Administration office in Grand Forks, N.D. You can reach him by e-mail at