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Social Security Mailbox

Why Is My Social Security Check Smaller Than That of Someone Who Earned a Similar Wage?

Your work record and age at retirement determine your benefit amount

Q: How can I find out what I'm likely to get in future benefits?

A: Social Security's online Retirement Estimator produces figures that are based on your actual Social Security earnings record. Keep in mind, though, that this is just an estimate. For additional help, Social Security representatives can be reached at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778 ).

Social Security's website also has a work sheet that will give you an approximation of your benefit. Another option for estimating your monthly benefit is the AARP Social Security Calculator.

See also: Infographic: Health Care costs in retirement

Q: What can I do if I disagree with Social Security's calculation of my benefit amount?

A: One common reason why a benefit is too low is that some earnings are missing from your work record.

You can check your work record by signing up for a "my Social Security" account online. To ask for a correction, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778 ). Be prepared to furnish proof of your earnings, such as W-2s, pay stubs or other evidence.

Even if you're not yet at retirement age, it's a good idea to take some time every few years to check your record. That's because Social Security generally limits earnings corrections to three years, three months and 15 days after the close of the relevant taxable year. But the rule includes a number of exceptions that may help you if you're trying to fix a mistake that's older than that.

If you still feel the number's too low, you have four levels of appeal. They are reconsideration (you ask Social Security officials to have another look), a hearing by an administrative law judge, a review by the Appeals Council and, finally, a federal court review. To appeal, you must make a request in writing within 60 days of the date you received the initial letter stating the level of your benefits.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question? Check out the Social Security Mailbox archive. If you don't find your answer there, send an email to the Social Security Mailbox.

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Databank USA infographic on percentage of people 65+ who rely on SS for 9-0% of their income.

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