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Oct. 22, 2016, 10:43 a.m. EDT

How to get the biggest Social Security check you can

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By Robert Powell, MarketWatch


Social Security represents a significant amount of income for retirees. In fact, it represents a little more than one-third (35.3%) of total income for the average retiree. For many people in America, Social Security may be their only income in retirement.

This MarketWatch and Learn story course will give you: in Part 1, all the basics you need to know about Social Security, and in Part 2, a clear and detailed explanation of the rules regarding the most important decision you’ll make when it comes to Social Security, when to claim your benefits.

Part 1: The basics

How much will I get from Social Security?

The average monthly Social Security retirement benefit for January 2016 was $1,341. To find out what you can get in Social Security benefits, you need to go to go to the Social Security Administration’s webpage and sign up for a “ My Social Security Account .”

Sign up for an account, and you can get these things.

If you do NOT yet receive benefits, you can:

  • Get your Social Security statement so you can to review: Estimates of your future retirement, disability, and survivors benefits; your earnings once a year to verify the amounts posted are correct; and the estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes you’ve paid.

  • Request a replacement Social Security card if you meet certain requirements;

  • Get a benefit verification letter stating that: You never received Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicare; or that you received benefits in the past, but do not currently receive them. (The letter will include the date your benefits stopped and how much you received that year.); or that you applied for benefits but haven’t received an answer yet.

If you already receive Social Security benefits or have Medicare, you can:

  • Request a replacement Social Security card if you meet certain requirements;

  • Get your benefit verification letter;

  • Check your benefit and payment information and your earnings record;

  • Change your address and phone number;

  • Start or change direct deposit of your benefit payment;

  • Get a replacement Medicare card; and

  • Get a replacement SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S for tax season.

At the Social Security website, you also can apply for retirement benefits , apply for disability , change your address , and even find out what the top 10 baby names were in the past year (Noah for boys, Emma for girls).

A great tool is the Social Security Retirement Estimator .

Do I need to worry about Social Security drying up before I need it?

Social Security, like Medicare, is a trust fund. Every year, the trustees issue a report. The most recent report says: “The combined trust fund reserves are still growing and will continue to do so through 2019. Beginning with 2020, the cost of the program is projected to exceed income.

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“The projected point at which the combined trust fund reserves will become depleted, if Congress does not act before then, comes in 2034 — the same as projected last year. At that time, there will be sufficient income coming in to pay 79% of scheduled benefits.

“The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.66% of taxable payroll — 0.02 percentage point smaller than in last year’s report.”

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